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La Strada: An Interview with Audrey Brisson
Image Credit: Robert Day

La Strada: An Interview with Audrey Brisson

6 March 2017 | Belphoebe New

Released in 1954, Federico Fellini’s La Strada is widely considered to be one of the great cinematic masterpieces. The film follows Gelsomina, bought by the dominant and abusive strongman Zampano and forced to travel alongside him performing as a clown. Achingly tragic yet filled with moments of hope, it’s a visually iconic and poignant tribute to the journeys we take in life and our search for deeper connections. For the first time, the story of La Strada has been adapted for the stage. The project is pioneered by Oliver Award winner Sally Cookson and has a cast of multicultural and multi-talented actors and musicians. We spoke to French-Canadian actress Audrey Brisson, who plays the wide-eyed, enslaved clown Gelsomina.

Culture Calling: How have people been responding to the production so far?
 
Audrey Brisson: We’re currently in our third week of the tour, and it’s tricky because people don’t really know what to expect. They’ll have a vague memory of the film but won’t remember exactly what the story is. People will often come up and say ‘well this isn’t what I expected but it was wonderful!’
 
CC: What do you think is added to the original Fellini film and story by bringing it to the stage?
 
AB: What is very specific about the Fellini film is the visually bleak landscapes, which we can’t necessarily replicate on stage. But the designers have been wonderful in making very simple designs to allow us to bring the story to the stage, and get the audience’s imaginations going. And the music, Benji Bower’s score is just stunning, and it completely enhances the story.

Audrey Brisson in La Strada
Audrey Brisson as Gelsomina in La Strada. Photo Credit: Robert Day
 
CC: Obviously La Strada depicts a journey, with the characters travelling long distances. How did you bring this idea to the stage?
 
AB: It was a challenge for us, how could we show that the characters were constantly on the road? It centers around the truck that they travel on, which we’ve stripped down to its bare minimum to show their journey. The music is also a really important element for signifying that they are on a journey. We have a group of multitalented musicians and actors on stage – two cellos, one violin, two accordions, and a number of ukuleles!
 
CC: Were you a fan of the film before? How did you find yourself in this role?
 
AB: I worked with Sally Cookson before, and we’d just finished Romeo and Juliet. She already had a very clear vision of what or who she wanted for Gelsomina. I hadn’t seen the film before we talked about it, but then I very quickly went home and did!

La Strada
La Strada. Photo Credit: Robert Day.
 
CC: What were the challenges of portraying Gelsomina?
 
AB: I think the challenge was not to exactly replicate what Giulietta Masina does in the film. She’s obviously so good at it, but it was of that time. We wanted to tell the story of this abusive relationship by making it relevant to today, and to give Gelsomina that voice. In the film, she’s sort of portrayed as a simple clown, and what I wanted to do was bring out Gelsomina’s sensitivity and that beautiful dreamer that Gelsomina can be without being too stereotypical.
 
CC: It’s quite a tragic storyline with Gelsomina appearing to be very much a victim, but there are also these moments of hope. What do you think people will be able to take away from the production?
 
AB: That regardless of your personality and who you are, the main thing people strive for is to find love in any way. It’s quite resonant in the film with the three main characters Gelsomina, Zampano and the Fool, who all have very different personalities, yet they’re all just trying to find any sense of connection with other people. It’s a need that they have, and that everyone has. Without being too political, it’s about being on the road and being nomadic, and it makes you think about what’s happening in Syria at the moment, with people being allowed or not allowed into countries. It’s not having a home, but the home being wherever you are. Life is a journey!
 
La Strada plays at theatres across the country. Currently being performed at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre, it will travel to Oxford Playhouse on 20 March and Bristol Old Vic on 11 April. Find out more information and to book tickets see La Strada’s website.

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