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William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged)

by Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor

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Some Explicit Polaroids

Some Explicit Polaroids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHOR: Mark Ravenhill

VENUE: St James Cavalier

DATES: 6, 7, 8; 13, 14, 15 October 2006

DIRECTOR: Chris Gatt

CAST: Marc Spiteri, Pia Zammit, Narcy Calamatta, Coryse Borg, VictorDebono, Keith Bennett

SUMMARY: Failed assassination attempts, New Age strippers, Technomusic, Russian go-go boys, corporate anarchists, aids cocktails,horny ghosts, beautiful bodies, abusive lovers, business execs on therampage, lots and lots of E… and more. Welcome to Happy Nation!

WHAT THE PRESS SAID:

Adrian Buckle and Conrad Buttigieg's company Unifaun is also becoming established as a successful mainstream company. This season they were responsible for two excellent productions, both at St James. Mark Ravenhill's play Some Explicit Polaroids, directed by Chris Gatt, was spiky fare, with Coryse Borg giving the performance of her life. - Showtime, 1 June 2007.

So what does Showtime think were the three outstanding local productions of the 2006/2007 season? In no particular order: Masquerade's The Goat, Unifaun's Some Explicit Polaroids and Curtain Call's Boston Marriage. Stellar performances of the season came from Nanette Brimmer, Monica Attard and Rachel Darmanin Demajo in Boston Marriage, Isabel Warrington in The Goat and a special mention for Coryse Borg, who was absolutely amazing in Some Explicit Polaroids. As for male actors, there was Manuel Cauchi (naturally) both in The Goat and Paul, Kevin Drake and Stefan Cachia Zammit in Paul and Mikhail Basmadjan in Company.  - Showtime, 1 June 2007

 

Nothing Means Anything

HOW often have you wished you were a fly on the wall?  Whenever I attend a play at St
James Cavalier’s ‘theatre in the round’ that is exactly how I feel.  One becomes so intimately involved in the emotion of what is unfolding within a couple of feet of you that one would hardly be surprised were one to be drawn into the action. This is the feeling that directors and producers like Chris Gatt and Adrian Buckle wish us to experience when they put up plays like Some Explicit Polaroids.
Mark Ravenhill’s Some Explicit Polaroids deals with negativity, with anger and frustration; it delineates the inability to love and be loved. It deals with survival in an urban landscape; a struggle no less basic, savage and fierce than that which takes place on the savannahs of
Africa. It is, as a lady of my acquaintance described it during the interval, “a weird and wonderful play”, that never ceases to shock and surprise as its plotline gyrates as sinuously as go-go boy Victor’s young, muscled body.
The story swivels vaguely around the character of Nick played very convincingly and sensitively by Marc Spiteri, who has been in prison since 1984 who appears, like the ghost of Marley, in his wife’s apartment 10 years later. Pia Zammit’s Helen was beautifully played although I hated,
and was probably meant to hate, the hairstyle and the clothes. She convincingly portrayed being torn between her genuine wish to become an MP; an ambition fuelled by the poverty and violence she grew up surrounded by and the subversiveness that had made Nick and her, typical “angry, young persons” of the 1970s and 1980s. It becomes increasingly obvious as the play progresses that the “angry, young person” had become, by the time Nick hit the streets again, as
extinct as the dodo. Having been thrown out by a furious Helen who saw Nick as a threat to her ambition of being a squeaky-clean New Labour Councillor and aspiring MP, Nick, now on the streets, like a modern-day Don Quixote, rescues the hapless Nadia, a pole dancer, played magnificently by Coryse Borg, from yet another beating by her psychopathic lover and
is drawn into a strange triangle dominated by Tim, an aging “queen”, played electrifyingly by Victor Debono, who has just got himself a young, sexy Russian sex-slave called Victor, played with extraordinary conviction by Keith Bennett.
Nick is unable to identify with this dysfunctional trio and predictably falls in love with Nadia which, because of the way she is, is doomed from the start. In this miasma of human frailty, enters the almost Mephistophelian figure of Jonathan, who, like a diabolical puppeteer, imposes his coldblooded if not amoral code that enables him to face up to and eventually come to control the man who had stabbed him 10 years before who was none other than our ex-con Nick! Jonathan, played splendidly by Narcy Calamatta, is the epitome of capitalist smarminess and razor sharp opportunism, turning even a murder attempt on his own life to his own advantage!
We meet two Tims in this play; both splendidly and movingly played by Victor Debono. There is the Tim who is the archetype gay in a thin carapace of flamboyant clothes advertising, Sex,
Drugs and Rock and Roll in capital letters, and whose heart is as hard as a diamond; a cynical hedonist who buys people and sex but eschews Love completely because he, like many homosexuals, has been hurt and disillusioned once too often. Many are those who, unable to face life, throw themselves into a selfdestructive pursuit of pleasure till, like Tim, the endless futility of it all gets to them. Then we meet the sick and dying Tim; a man who has given up the febrile
artificiality of his former life and who wants to die because “nothing means anything”.
Some Explicit Polaroids is not a comfortable play to watch. As the young Russian ingénue snaps away, producing instant and disturbing Polaroid images of the unquiet people around him we realise that he is changing from a mindless body up for sale nurtured in the grey socialist ex-
USSR to a real person who is belatedly growing up in leaps and bounds and boy, does Keith Bennett’s performance sparkle! Fast, astringently pungent and at times unbelievably funny; breathtakingly graphic and occasionally lyrical and tender too; this is a play to be remembered and to make one think.
Splendidly cast, directed and produced, it will long remain, in my mind, a point of reference to attempt to unravel and maybe understand the cerebral conundrums and human complexities that make up the paradoxical world we live in.

-Kenneth Zammit Tabona, The Times of Malta, 21/10/06

  

Borg makes this pathetic creature a delight to watch and a source of most of the play’s humour, having the right amount of energy and verve. - Teodor Reljic, THIS WEEK, 15/10/06

Zammit’s performance is spot on and scary – we all know how mediocrity is easy to fall into. The most boring character turns out to be the most effective because it hits so close to home. - Teodor Reljic, THIS WEEK, 15/10/06

 

 

LIVING AND LOVING IN A CONSUMERIST SOCIETY

 Unifaun’s Adrian Buckle is proud that his company has been performing “avant garde” plays, but of course Mark Ravenhill’s Some explicit polaroids (Unifaun at St James Cavalier) is not avant garde at all.  What it certainly is, is sexually explicit and, for the traditionally minded, outrageous, but stylistically and structurally it is certainly not ground-breaking at all, and in the conflict it portrays between old and new ways of thought Ravenhill is following in the footsteps of much earlier writers like John Osborne and Joe Orton.

 “Some explicit polaroids” is a play I found gripping and exciting and not just because of the characters’ extraordinary goings on, but mainly because of the strong contrasts it provides between the idealistic but wrong-headed lefties of the past, and the young people of  post-Thatcher and Tony Blair’s England with their hedonistic and consumerist ideas.  Ravenhill brings this out by making Nick (Marc Spiteri) his central character as a violently anti-capitalist socialist who has just emerged from fifteen years in prison to which he was sentenced in 1984 for having seriously wounded Jonathan (Narcy Calamatta), a paragon of capitalist greed and selfishness.  The long prison term has preserved his lefty ideas and cut him off from the radical changes produced by Margaret Thatcher and strengthened by John Major and, of course, New Labour under Blair.  Ravenhill makes Nick’s ignorance of 1999 England all too vivid by making him ask what a playstation was and showing him puzzled when asked to pay with a card.

 Nick’s first great shock comes when his former girl-friend Helen (Pia Zammit) turns out to have sold out (in Nick’s view) by becoming a Labour Councillor and planning to become a Labour M.P.  He is even more shocked when he goes to the help of Nadia, a lap-dancer, (Coryse Borg) who was receiving one of her regular beatings from her boy-friend, and gets to know her and her friend Tim (Victor Debono) Tim  is gay and has just acquired through the internet a Russian rent boy Victor ( Keith Bennet) whom he regards as his sole property (having “downloaded” him, as he is fond of saying) and treats like a slave, ordering him to “sit” whenever Victor is in the way.  This relationship is the chief image in the play of the consumerist society in which even sex is often just another commodity.

 Nadia cannot understand Nick’s anger against so many people and institutions.  In fact, she stifles her anger against anyone, including the man who regularly beats her up, harbouring the illusion that such people are “beautiful inside”.  Tim too does not wish to fight anything; he just wants to be happy, even if being happy depends swallowing regularly pills to fight the AIDS with which he is afflicted.  Victor too shows his contempt for socialism, having experienced it at its worst in his native Russia.

 The plot develops in two ways.  In the first place Jonathan approaches people who might tell him where Nick is, Helen and then Nadia.  He blackmails Helen into thinking her political ambitions will be ruined if he publicises her earlier activity as a revolutionary.  At the  same time, Tim’s illness reaches a critical stage, and he dies not before Victor realizes he himself is no longer a hedonist but actually loves Tim.  In an extraordinary, surrealistic  scene, Victor talks to the dead Tim following which Tim admits reluctantly he too has loved Victor.

 This strongly-written scene is dramatically the high point of the play, and all the remaining scenes in which Nick finally comes face to face with Jonathan who, on realizing he no longer hates Nick, offers to take Nick under his wing and the following scene in which we see that Nick has refused the offer, and is now living with some degree of contentment with Helen once more, are theatrically an anti-climax..  Ravenhill unsatisfactorily tries to wind things up by making Helen ask Nick to find his old anger once more whilst she goes on with her political plans.

 The author wanted the play to be, above all, a political play, but the strength and vividness of the scenes involving Tim, Nadia and Victor makes the other scenes pale, and Jonathan is too much of a caricature of a capitalist to be an effective icon of the evils of capitalism, more especially as he has been a victim of leftwing violence.  There is very little in his lines to show him up as morally villainous, but I cannot think that Ravenhill wanted him to get at least some of the audience’s sympathy.  Narcy Calamatta plays him with untypical restraint  – Chris Gatt must have done a lot of reining in – and it is only in the one scene with Nadia that he shows us a darker side.

 Marc Spiteri’s Nick is somewhat weakened by looking a little too much like a nice if angry middle-class man, but, while he never overdoes the anger, he makes us feel its depth and the greatness of his disappointment when his budding relationship with Nadia is cut abruptly short.  Perhaps in his closing scene he gives too strong an impression of accepting with some cheerfulness a future of the compromises Helen has long accepted.  Helen is not a rewarding part, but Pia Zammit brings out many psychological nuances that make it come to life.

 The most striking performances are those of the hedonistic trio, all of whom change during the course of what is not a long play.  Victor Debono’s Tim is the best thing I have seen him do, both vocal delivery and body language plotting his decline from the arrogance of power over others and his utter ignoring of the illness that is eroding him inside, to his desperate attempt to keep control over his life by refusing to continue his medication, to his realization – after death – that his life, emotionally, has been a mistake. In his early scenes, his firm statement about the need to seek happiness each day and refusing to see patterns in life by which he will be ruled, strike home, while in the hospital scene, the struggle between anger at his approaching death and his desire not to relinquish to pills control over his body  is touching. 

 His performance and the physically uninhibited performance of Keith Bennett as Victor allow Ravenhill’s aim to make this deathbed scene very moving .  Even the explicit sex scene with which Victor and Nadia stimulate Tim’s sexuality and convince him that it is worth his while to live a little longer, is a scene that shocked me into accepting  that love can take extraordinary paths to achieve its aims.

 Like Bennett, Coryse Borg in  her micro-outfits and complete surrender to the physicality of the moment is utterly convincing as a person living at the moral frontiers of society.  I suspect she starts off a little too fussily with her gesticulations and vocal pitch, but even in this scene she comes over as a young woman with views that are bound to lead her to disaster.  For much of the play she is a victim more than anything else, but in the second act after having lost Nick and found a new and extraordinary relationship with Victor, she becomes a wiser, if not a happier,  person.  Like Debono and Bennett she has come up with an impressively strong performance that is all of a piece and develops convincingly.

 Chris Gatt’s production does not shirk the two difficult explicit scenes, with Keith Bennett, Coryse Borg and Victor Debono playing them unflinchingly.  The round theatre creates difficulties for the shifting of  large props like a tall hospital bed, but this is done with a minimum of hassle.  Much of the dialogue came over clearly, and the sometimes complex stage business is carried out smoothly, with the rhythm rarely faltering.  There is no set as such, but the projection of videos and the flashing of legends indicating the setting of particular scenes makes one realize how undesirable elaborate sets now seem to be.

 - Dr Paul Xuereb, THE SUNDAY TIMES, 15/10/06

Marc Spiteri as Nick and Pia Zammit as  HelenKeith Bennett as Victor and Coryse Borg as Nadia

 

Victor Debono as Tim imposing himself on Keith Bennett's VictorCoryse Borg's Nadia on an E!

Narcy Calamatta's Jonathan describing his ideal world"Baby's Arm!"

the stripper and the prisoner

The sexy russian slaveone explicit polaroid
Socialists get drunk

Gay or straight?No more happy world

  

pictures by Joseph A. Borg