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Title: Il-Mitt Fehma tal-Kavallier John Giordimaina O.S.C.I.
Author: Trevor Zahra
Direction: Josette Ciappara
Cast: Mikhail Basmadjian, Mary Rose Mallia, Simon Curmi, Anthony Ellul, Andre Mangion, Christine Francalanza, Graziella Galea, Trevor Zahra
Set Design: Romualdo Moretti
Graphic Design: Mikhail Basmadjian
Dates: 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 March 2017
Venue: Sir Temi Zammit Hall, University of Malta, Tal-Qroqq
Summary: Il-Kavallier John Giordimaina mingħalih jifhem f'kollox. Il-lejla jkellimna fuq iċ-ċensura, il-Eurovision, it-talb, l-arkett, il-veġetarjaniżmu u ħafna suġġetti oħrajn.
What the Papers Said.
A light-hearted night with the Kavallier
Unifaun, brought to stage a comedy written by Trevor Zahra. We could expect nothing less than an exquisite performance and that is exactly what we got! The audience was in constant fits of laughter. The acting, singing and costumes were all perfectly curated to allow the audience to enjoy an impeccable evening.
Comino Magazine, 20/03/17
Unifaun takes on a cantankerous pensioner and looks at life though his blinkered perspective
The Foibles of the Maltese
From the wickedly funny mind of much-loved author Trevor Zahra, yet another play has found its way to the Maltese stage in the guise of “Il-Mitt Fehma tal-Kavallier John Giordimaina O.S.C.I.” Based on his 2013 book, “Bizzilla”, which is precisely a fictional insight into the character and beliefs of the self-same knight John Giordimaina, this new play kept some of the old characters encountered in the original book and introduced some new ones to help move the piece along. Just like the novel, the play develops in individual vignettes which each highlight an aspect of the titular character’s ideas or quirks. Unifaun Theatre’s production currently running at Temi Zammit Hall at the University of Malta does the book and subsequently the author’s intention, justice.
Zarha’s vision was brought to life by director Josette Ciappara, with a cameo appearance by the author playing himself, as he too has to deal with the difficult but often funny character he has created. Mr Zahra’s stage presence makes him a very likable man, while Romualdo Moretti’s multi-purpose set design adapts itself to the various situations Giordimaina gets himself into. Chev John Giordimaina has many ideas about the world and how things should be done. In fact, Zarha’s main idea behind Giordimaina is to use him as a vehicle to criticise and poke fun at the conservative and incredibly funny idiosyncrasies which so many Maltese people have. Mikhail Basmadjian is brilliant in his canny interpretation of Chev. John Giordimaina – a self-appointed know-it-all who is well-respected by his community and likes to have his finger in several pies, masked by false modesty. He is supported by his friend Notary Harry Demajo played by Anthony Ellul, who manages to create an annoyingly sychophantic man too ready to agree with the Chevalier. Simon Curmi plays Lorry Theuma, a childhood friend of Giordimaina’s who does not let him talk his way into winning every argument because his healthy scepticism and cynicism keeps him sane. In a good show of character doubling, Andre Mangion is his brother-in-law Tony, married to his sister Lina (Mary Rose Mallia); while Mangion also plays the ever patient Dun Salv, who is regularly criticised by Giordimaina; as well as Mario, his relaxed and affable friend. Mr Mangion has proved to be a versatile actor and has matured in his interpretation. Christine Francalanza plays Lina’s friend – an admirer of Giordimaina’s because of his apparent intelligence and erudition, while Graziella Galea doubles as the feisty waitress serving the men at Café Premier and Elaine, his niece.
From censorship and the way people dress to the Eurovision song contest, vegetarianism, matters of religion and charitable works as well as daily advice which the Chevalier likes to dispense so freely, we begin to realise that there are, sadly many people like this man. Self-important, pseudo-intellectual and patronising people who fill other people’s lives with verbal op-eds and unsolicited advice, who thrive on the admiration of those they talk down to and enjoy being the centre of attention, are unfortunately woven into the fabric of Maltese society, and are very easy to recognise. Everyone is an expert and everyone talks with a sense of authority – to the point of appearing ridiculous. This is where the comedy comes in. Zahra’s script and Ciappara’s sensitivity to these character types were complemented by an excellent cast – with Mr Basmadjian in the lead role and Mr Curmi’s Lorry being the two funniest and most instantly recognisable character types, while the ladies, Ms Mallia and Ms Francalanza were every Maltese housewife from your nanna to your nosey neighbour. Ms Galea gives as good as she gets as the waitress who has had enough of Giordimaina’s attitude and is to be applauded for her stance. Basmadjian and Curmi make a great comic duo, bringing to life Zahra’s characters in an inimitable manner. Sometimes it is better to laugh at a situation that cannot really be changed: an old man set in his ways who likes to tell everybody how to run the world. Giordimaina is the latest in a host of characters which Zahra has created so masterfully – still intending to teach while putting a smile on our faces. Unifaun have done a very good job in putting up this production: certainly a good one to see.
Andre Delicata, Times of Malta, 22/03/17
A Collaboration Well Worth Watching
I am usually very well-prepared when I take a trip to the theatre. I may have watched the play’s trailer or read up on it in the press, or even grilled friends as to what to expect. But when it came to Unifaun Theatre’s production of Il-Mitt Fehma tal-Kavallier John Giordimania OSCI, written by Trevor Zahra, I was fresh off a plane from the UK and had no preconceived ideas of what to expect from this – and I am very glad that was the case.
What followed was two-and-a-half hours of refreshing Maltese comedy (well directed by Josette Ciappara) and packed with likeable performances.
In the lead role, Mikhail Basmadjian once again proved his incredible versatility and strength as an actor. It was easy to forget that he was playing much older than his actual age as, in the reasonably large expanse of Sir Temi Zammit Hall, you could look past the drawn-on wrinkles and whitened hair to, instead, take in his dynamic portrayal of this interesting character. I think the whole audience relished the chance to develop a love/hate relationship with the Kavalier. We all know someone like him – the sort of person who fascinates as much as he annoys, and Basmadjian excels.
There were many very entertaining scenes – some with a stronger underlying messages than others but all presented in the form of an animated monologue interspersed with exasperated input from the other characters.
Throughout, Basmadjian moves brilliantly between the funnier and more poignant moments in the narrative, consistently securing the audience’s attention. My favourite would have to be the bar scene in which the Kavallier negated his friend Mario’s (played well by young actor Andre Mangion, who also took on the roles of Dun Salv and Tony) decision to become a vegetarian by aggressively chopping up a carrot and suggesting that it, too, was suffering to be eaten.
Another highlight was his animated chat with the playwright himself, Trevor Zahra. The pair performed a humorous duologue which culminated in the Kavalier begging Zahra to keep his content more ‘family friendly’ in the future; Zahra, of course, refused with glee, much to the audience’s amusement.
In the roles of Lina and her ‘ħabiba’ (friend), Mary Rose Mallia and Christine Francalanza make a fine comic duo. Mallia is, of course, no stranger to the stage and her experience shines through whether as the Kavalier’s slightly nerve-wracked sister or when belting out a song in the on-stage bar.
Francalanza, meanwhile, is more of a newcomer but excellently held her own and proved that she has strong comic timing, especially in the show’s more fraught moments.
Making up the medium-sized cast come Anthony Ellul as the level-headed notary Harry Demajo (one of the Kavalier’s only champions), Graziella Galea as both Lina’s peppy daughter Elaine and the fiery waitress, and Simon Curmi as Lorry Theuma. Curmi doubtlessly gave one of the strongest and most natural performances of the evening in his effortless outbursts of frustration at the Kavalier – something we could all relate to by that point.
This is certainly a Zahra/Unifaun collaboration that’s well-worth watching.
Jo Caruana, Escape, 26/03/2017