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La Strada director: 'I was easily hooked by Fellini classic.'

The UK premiere of the stage version of La Strada, Fellinii's much admired 1954 film drama, is opening at The Belgrade on Monday.

Director Sally Cookson (pictured at rehearsals) whose previous theatre credits include Jane Eyre and Peter Pan for the National Theatre, discusses how she fell in love with the film and explains the process of taking it from the big screen to the stage.

When did you first encounter Fellini’s La Strada?

I saw the film when I was quite young. My father was very keen on the film, so I watched it and didn’t understand what it was about but I was intrigued by it. I loved the cinematography, and the music, and the strangeness of it, and I was beguiled by the character of Gelsomina. I watched it again when I was a drama student and became a bit of a Fellini fan.

What inspired you to put La Strada on the stage?

It was Kenny (Producer) who asked me whether I was interested in adapting it and of course as soon as he mentioned the film title, I was immediately hooked because of my interest in the film. I knew it was always going to be a challenge and part of me felt that you can’t take on a Fellini film. It’s so iconic, why would you want to do that?! As I started to think about it more and more, and watched it again and again, I realised that the story is a universal one and if I was going to turn it into a piece of theatre, I wouldn’t be trying to put Fellini’s masterpiece on stage. I would be responding to the film, using it as inspiration and trying to get to the heart of the story which feels very ‘folk tale.’

What do you want audiences to experience from this production?

I think stories are at the heart of theatre. I always want my audience to be provoked in some way and reminded of what it is to be human. I think that’s what I’m always looking for when I make a piece of theatre – what is this story saying about our lives today? How can it connect with us now? I think, at its heart, it’s about a struggle to understand what it is to be human. For Gelsomina, who is the protagonist in our version, we’re seeing the story through her eyes. She is struggling to survive, but she is someone who, regardless of what is happening around her, has this incredible spirit and this wonderful sense of the possibilities of life. I think that is a central theme for us in telling this story.

Tell us what is involved in the process of devising?

Well devising is how I’ve always made theatre. It essentially means that I don’t start rehearsals with a concrete script. The script emerges during the process and everybody in the production is involved in responding to the source material - the creative team, the actors, everyone who is in the room devises together. It means we have to be a very strong team and the collaboration is at the heart of how we make the work. Each process is completely different because I’m always working with different actors, so their particular response to something informs how we make this piece.

Will this production involve live music?

Yes, absolutely. I always like working with performers who are multi-talented. It’s so tough for actors these days - they have to be able to sing, dance, act brilliantly and play instruments and they’re doing all of that in this show – and be circus performers! Bart (cast member) is a wonderful circus performer and he shows off his skills in this show, but they all play instruments and sing. That provides a real delight for the audience.

Belgrade Theatre from Mon 13 – Sat 18 Feb. Tickets are available now by calling the Belgrade Box Office team on 024 7655 3055 or visit www.belgrade.co.uk for cheaper tickets online.