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William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged)

by Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor

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Il-Metamorfosi

 

 Title:   Il-Metamorfosi

Author:   Ovid

Adaptation:   Adrian Buckle & Trevor Zahra

Co-Production: Malta International Arts Festival

Venue:   Fort Saint Elmo

Dates:   10, 11 July 2017

Direction:   Stephen Oliver & Dominic Said

Cast:   Jamie Cardona, Magda van Kuilenburg, Karl Schembri, Stephen Mintoff, Lydia Portelli, Clayton Mallia, Ryan Cutajar, Julia Camilleri, Sarah Amato, Clint Chircop, Michela Farrugia

Stage Management:   Cathy Lawlor

Music:   Mario Sammut, Francesco Sultana, Claire Tonna & Yasmin Kuymizakis

Choreography:   Doug Comley & Sandra Mifsud

Set Design:   Romualdo Moretti

Costume Design:   Nicole Cuschieri

Graphic Design:   Mikhail Basmadjian

 

 

 What the Papers Said:

 

 

The transmogrifying forces of forbidden love

Unifaun Theatre lives up to its mythological name in a Greek homage at Fort St Elmo

 

Love is described as a “many-splendoured thing” by Fain and Webster in their 1955 song but the Greeks also thought, and rightly so, that it is a “many-gendered thing” and took it up in its multiple permutations in their expansive mythology.

Not only did they account for variation, but their version of love and lust was also more violent, visceral and real than the saccharine versions peddled in later eras.

Love, in others words, hurts. Ovid’s version of these scenarios were collected in his seminal Metamorphosis, which has influenced countless literary greats over the years.

Unifaun Theatre has chosen 17 of his myths to retell in Maltese, in a great collaborative effort between Adrian Buckle, who adapted them for the stage in English, and Trevor Zahra, who is responsible for the Maltese adaptation of Buckle’s lines.

Zahra chose cogent Maltese idiomatic expressions and often included rhyme in his character’s interpretations.

Running on Monday and Tuesday as part of the Malta International Arts Festival, Metamorfosi ta’ Ovidju is a performance piece which reflects the duality of its scripted content also in its production, direction and casting. With the interplay of the English to Maltese versions, with a final Maltese language product, and directed conceptually and including lighting design by Stephen Oliver, the interpretation of the Maltese script was in the hands of Dominic Said. The set was designed by the inimitable Romualdo Moretti, who managed to incorporate a swimming pool as an integral part of the performance space.

Live original music is in the hands of Mario Sammut, Francesco Sultana, Claire Tonna and Yasmin Kuymizakis, the traditional and ethereal costumes in the hands of Nicole Cuschieri, Ritienne Mallia Tabone, Maria Muscat and the entire piece stage managed by Cathy Lawlor.

I had the opportunity to review the play in its final stages of rehearsal and I must say that even without the lighting or music, which will undoubtedly create a fantastic effect, the performance was slick and very enjoyable.

Since then, I’ve also had the chance to see a couple of evening shots with the lighting system in place and the entire night-time show promises to be a feast for the senses.

The choice of the swimming pool was particularly apt and apart from the innovation of having most of the performances and scenes take place in the water and around it, the metaphor was a significant one – water both gives and takes life, like the waters of birth and those of the River Styx.

It is fluid and ever-changing just as the transformations – the physical metamorphosis of various characters in the performance – change the appearance and demeanour of those cursed by the gods.

The curses are based on pride, a lust for power as well as the desires of the flesh, the chastisement of overreaching, ambitious characters and others whose attractions are either frowned upon or doomed. Pride does indeed come before a fall, at least according to the god Cupid, whose personal argument and petty jealousies with Jove, lead him to seek revenge by using his arrows for vengeance and mischief. Jamie Cardona’s Cupid was indeed a manic version of a cheeky cherub – more adult and certainly more vindictive.

It is with barely hidden delight which people will take to the character. He weaves the plot around the unfortunate ones who fall at his arrows. With a chorus of three muses made up of Magda van Kuilenberg (Mneme), Sarah Amato (Melete) and Michaela Farrugia (Aoide), the cast is made up of some established actors, like van Kuilenberg and Cardona, but mostly of very good newcomers, who I hope to see more of in the future.

These three actors also doubled as several other characters, along with a principal female, Julia Camilleri, and a principal male, Stephen Mintoff. Their versions of youth, troubled and tranquil, whose lives and those of their loved ones are turned upside down by the lust of men and gods, leading to rape, banishment, torture and death are echoed in the myths of Apollo and Daphne, Io, Narcissus and Echo, Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, Arachne, Hyacinthus and The Rape of Proserpina.

Both Camilleri and Mintoff portrayed their multiple interpretations well, with a strong understanding of the suffering of their characters. I particularly enjoyed Camilleri’s ability to change the demeanour of her various young women to expose a range of traits – both less admirable and desirable.

Lydia Portelli’s mother figure took on various roles from the kindly to the vengeful, while Ryan Cutajar made a strong case for fatherly love as Daedalus and showed a darker side as Pluto, god of the underworld. Karl Schembri played Tereus, King of Thrace, among other roles, whose lust and violent infidelity led to a tragic end. Clayton Mallia as Apollo, Mercury and Perseus, modulated his characters well, while Clint Chircop was most notably Jupiter.

The intimate performance space brings the strength of the piece physically closer to the audience, which I trust will be well entertained as this performance is not one to miss.

-Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 8/7/17

 

 A Night of Performance Prowess

Adrian Buckle and Trevor Zahra have teamed up to adapt Ovid’s Metamorphosis to Maltese. Cupid the god of love, who is found in each of the scenes, develops narrations about the different Greek Gods and Goddesses, about the true meaning of love. Although, they may achieve love, at other times, they fail tragically. The play was one of its kind on the Maltese islands, within St. Elmo, utilising a pool, as the stage, where all of the acting took place. The acting, stage presence and adaptions all proved to be an excellent masterpiece of Maltese genius.

-Comino Magazine, 13/07/17

 

Bold, clear, slick storytelling

Ovid’s epic poem consisting of over 250 episodes chronicling the multiple facets of erotic love has been influencing playwrights for centuries since it was published in 8AD. It has, however, rarely (if ever) been adapted for the local theatre. It was therefore a bold and wise move for Adrian Buckle, founder of Unifaun Theatre, to adapt a selection of the stories from such a timeless classic in Maltese as part of this year’s Malta Arts Festival.

The text of the adaptation, masterfully translated into Maltese by Trevor Zahra, successfully captured the lyrical quality of the poem in a very accessible manner that was, in the main very well delivered by the cast. The cast were coached in the delivery of the text by well known actor, Dominic Said who co-directed the piece and must be complimented for bringing great clarity to the storytelling. Stage direction was in the hands of the established actor/director Stephen Oliver who directed the piece with a strong visual emphasis that helped the audience keep its attention throughout the two-hour show despite the episodic nature of the piece. The flow between scenes was kept tight and the actors seemed very confident despite the very limited time for rehearsal with the unorthodox and challenging stage. Moreover, the brevity of the individual stories meant that the actors were afforded very little time within which to build their characters and it is to their and Oliver’s credit that most of the storytelling was so effective.

Much has been written about the staging of this production which takes place entirely in and around a pool of water specifically constructed for the piece and designed by Romualdo Moretti. The pool certainly gave the production a strong visual element and together with Oliver’s lighting design gave a number of scenes (particularly the more violent scenes) an interesting twist that would have been lost without the aquatic element. Moreover, the water element linked the stories back to their roots in the natural world and added a strong sensual aspect to the actors’ appearance and movement.

Most of the cast played multiple roles and showed great skill in shifting rapidly from one character to another. The only exception to this was the very talented young actor Jamie Cardona who solely played the mischievous God, Cupid. Cupid acts as both a narrator and an agent provocateur; sadistically enjoying the hurt left in the wake of unrequited love and at times even aiding and abetting the perpetrators of rape. The acting of the rest of cast was similarly of a very good standard with notable mentions going out to Magda von Kuilenburg, Stephen Mintoff and Julia Camilleri.

Given the Arts Festival commission, Buckle may have had to tone down his usual penchant for shock-vale in this production yet he has wisely chosen a classic that still managed to satisfy Unifaun audiences by producing a slick yet off beat show. I personally felt that the evening would have benefited from tackling fewer stories and eliminating the interval which interrupted the surreal atmosphere that the cast had so skilfully evoked. 

-Jes Camilleri, The Sunday Times, 30/07/2017

 

 

Image Gallery by Darrin Zammit Lupi (Reuters)

Image Gallery by Christine Muscat Azzopardi