Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
The cold wind that had pummelled Malta from the early hours of the morning could not have been more aptly delivered as Anders Lustgarten’s incredible and soul touching play Lampedusa was brought to the St. James Cavalier with the same ferocity of spirit and damning verdict of Europe’s response to the on-going atrocity and loss of human life across Africa and the Middle-East.
That same cold wind that drove red dust from deep within the heart of Africa also brings Human Beings fleeing for their lives and yet certain parts of the media, especially those Hell-bent on creating a storm of their own, will have people believe that they are doing it for money, for hand outs, that they would risk their lives running from the evils of a regime for trinkets made of clay. It is a fallacy of thought that does not do justice to the compassion within humanity for their fellow man or woman and one so wonderfully captured in all its anger, its trafficked opinion and change of heart and one that was directed with absolute dedication by the noted Herman Grech.
When the play was performed in Liverpool at the Unity Theatre, the keenness of the play was such that the close impact of the performers caught many audiences unaware, the difference with hosting Anders Lustgarten’s seminal piece on an island, a country, surrounded on all sides by the very waters that many in North Africa are dying in as they attempt to cross from one continent to another, is that close proximity makes it harder to dismiss, to forget the situation, the cruelty of political thought that stirs in the most narrow minded of actions; it is life and death on such a scale that you cannot help but be affected by it.
The two actors, Mikhail Basmadjian and the ever gracious Pia Zammit bring home the startling reality of what Europe really thinks at times, that we as a body of people have been led to believe about what is happening as people find desperate ways to flee war torn Syria and other countries affected by what can be seen as the tip of the iceberg in climate driven wars.
A production of absolute brilliance and first rate direction, Lampedusa, being performed in both English and Maltese during this particular run, is an absolute must see.
Ian D. Hall; Liverpool Sound and Vision; 19/02/16
Love in the time of darkness
Historically, Malta has had a number of connections with the Italian island of Lampedusa. Not only is it geographically closer to our island than it is to any other part of Italy but the British forces even planned to make it part of Malta in the 19th-century, until Sir Thomas Maitland decided to withdraw the troops and stores stationed there because it presented little or no interest. It seems a minor historical fact, yet one that could have had significant implications in our island’s obligations towards migrants fleeing towards Europe from North Africa.
Anders Lustgarten’s powerful play is essentially two monologues that intertwine around the thorny reality of the 21st century – mass migration to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. It is a reality that is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future) and one which Europe and its allies have directly or indirectly contributed towards.
What is immediately striking about the play is Lustgarten’s choice of stories; the story of a former Lampedusian fisherman who now makes a living fishing out bodies of dead migrants and Denise a young mixed race Muslim girl from Leeds whose family had emigrated from Syria and who is trying to make ends meet and finance her studies by working as a debt collector for a payday loan company. In this way, he chronicles not only the grim start of a perilous journey across the Mediterranean but also the equally grim reality that many eventually face in our urban wastelands. This is what allows the play to transcend the historical and geographical setting and take on a global and timeless perspective.
Herman Grech is well known for his strong, unapologetic stance as a journalist against the growing racism in our country and, as director, he shows himself in full control of this sensitive piece. He has allowed the powerful stories of the two protagonists to take centre stage and adopted a restrained approach to the production. To this end, he had the benefit of two of the best actors on the local stage.
Mikhail Basmadjian plays Stefano the fisherman with equal doses of energy and pathos offering the audience a harrowing glimpse into the tragedy that regularly unfolds in the sea we love so much. His rapport with the audience was spot on and his storytelling precise and sincere. Pia Zammit’s confident stage presence and her skill at sustaining a Yorkshire accent made her character extremely credible, as she gave the audience an unflinching and vivid portrayal of what it feels like to live as an outsider in the Europe that represents the dreams of so many migrants. This was possibly one of her best performances to date.
Despite their desperate circumstances, both characters experience the redemptive force of love and compassion stemming from the most unlikely of friendships. Stefano befriends a young Malian refugee eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife who still has to make the perilous journey across the sea, while Denise befriends one of her debtors, a single Portuguese mother who offers to share her meagre accommodation with Denise when the latter ends in hardship.
Once again, Unifaun has produced a high quality and bold production. Hats off to all the production team, particularly Romualdo Moretti and Chris Gatt for another excellent and evocative set and lighting design.
Jes Camilleri, The Sunday Times, 28/02/16