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Author: Adrian Buckle
Direction: Stephen Oliver
Cast: Mikhail Basmadjian, Joyia Fitch, Stephen Mintoff, Mariele Zammit
Set Design: Romualdo Moretti, Anthony Catania
Venue: Spazju Kreattiv Main Theatre, St James Cavalier
Dates: 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19 February 2017
Summary: Jamie, who is in love with Lily-Anne, has arrived at her house in preparation to take her to the prom. Lily-Anne, a confident and cocky girl, teases him but then proceeds to reassure him of her interest in him. Meanwhile, Lily-Anne’s parents, Martin and Diana, arrive and Lily-Anne goes to change…
What the Papers Said
In our current political climate, never has the disconnect between the older generation and the younger been more pronounced in the public eye. Youth is moving away in ever more drastic and visible ways than the motions of their predecessors and contention is rife everywhere. This is the mood that Unintended, penned by Adrian Buckle, is hoping to capture and underscore through sharp and violent action.
Stephen Mintoff plays the doe-eyed Jaime, a young man hoping to escort Lily-Ann, played by Mariele Zammit, to the Silver Moon ball with as little incident as possible, but what transpires is a series of bizarre and shocking events, perpetrated by Lily-Ann’s parents, played by Mikhail Basmadjian and Joyia Fitch. There is a very telling portrait in the characterization of the four players. Jaime is a mild-mannered boy, whose nervousness and eagerness to please and be liked permeates through all of his actions, he is constantly uncomfortable by the actions of others but will not refute disputable actions for fear of disturbing social conventions. There is a very telling line of dialogue, in which Martin, Lily-Ann’s father, is aggressively trying to get Jaime to smoke a joint, after several instances of attempting to roofie him with mixed results, Jaime begins to actively resist, sensing an impeding danger, but Martin intones that he will be “very offended” after which Jamie gives in. The inability to resist or refuse even the smallest acts that cause him discomfort are a gateway into acts of violence and abuse committed by Martin and Diana for their own satisfaction at the expense of Jaime’s autonomy, which he continually finds himself unable to fight for. Drug use, sexual assault and extreme mutilation are all on the cards for Martin and Diana, who push to extremes in order to sate their own perversions at the cost of Jaime’s innocence.
Unintended takes a peculiar approach at communicating its theme. Overarching, the intention of framing the corruption of youth by their elders is obvious and effective, as illustrated by poor Jaime’s ordeal. However, attempts to tie back to current political events are a little weak and perhaps could have been enforced a little more subtly through dialogue and over the course of more than one conversation. At a late stage in the play we discover that it is set presumably somewhere in the UK, as Jaime and Lily-Ann discuss their views of a then upcoming Brexit vote. With the power of hindsight, we know now that the self-assurance of the Remain camp is fatal, and so Jaime and Lily-Ann’s discussion is bittersweet in the knowledge that goodness is not so obvious, and more often than not, debatable at exactly what is good for whom. I can see how Buckle tries valiantly to marry the image of Jamie’s vile ordeal with the post Brexit and President Trump world in which we live. His vision is clear, youth has been robbed, the democratic process has failed them and that process in this vision is akin to a violent sexual assault. However the broader themes tie in much too vaguely with the action onstage to have the desired effect, I believe. The inclusion of political themes come in at far too late and far too sparse a conversation in the script, and the intention for such themes to emerge is far clearer in the author’s note than in the performance itself. While on a condensed level what happens to Jaime is indicative of thoughtless and selfish corruption, the wider scope could have been enforced through more subtle and enforced dialogue.
An indubitably interesting aspect that shines through the performance, however, is the use of a lip-syncing technique, which I understand to be the brainchild of director Stephen Oliver. Making excellent use of the musical repertoire of Muse, incidentally from which the play also borrows its name, Oliver creates dream like fractures in the play with an almost filmic quality. This montage brings forward the underlying tone of sinister and menacing and allows for true motivation and desire of characters to be shown without the use of dialogue. Muse’s music can be animalistic, futuristic and severe, and these qualities serve to jar and displace the audience to suit the character’s needs. Accompanied by some very effective light work, this particular technique was very effective, although it could have benefited from some tighter choreography. On the case of movement during these montages, I feel as though cast members were given free range on how to move and use their space, and while not outright displeasing, there was nothing about the movement to music that seemed thoughtful or deliberate and came across more as improvisational.
Stephen Mintoff shines as Jamie, his performance clearly incredibly taxing and unwavering throughout, a burden he has no problem carrying. He brings a certain quality of the anxiety and eagerness of Jamie that is genuine and felt, his face flushing often, such is the intensity which he offers the character. Mintoff sports well the little quirks of an unassertive and restrained youth, such that is always clear that under the discomfort something is being held back, a constant thought unexpressed. With a soft, doe-eyed stare, Mintoff endures boldly the abuse and assault heaped upon Jamie, such as when he is manhandled from one scene to another, it feels like you’re watching Bambi staring down a hunting rifle, and are constantly hyper-aware that at some point it is going to go off. As a performer, Mintoff comes off as stalwart and engaging, an understated yet formidable presence onstage.
Mikhail Basmadjian and Joyia Fitch play wonderfully opposite each other as Martin and Diana, bringing to life the marriage of sex, violence and selfish exploitation. Basmadjian is an impeding presence, he exudes a violence that is silent, hiding under the veneer of liberal tendencies, but is ready to emerge at the slightest signs of resistance. The presence of masculine and feminine in this violence is communicated well by Basmadjian and Fitch, and through them, both alone and together, we can see what combination of traits come together to create the absolute violation of Jaime. Fitch plays the softer, but somehow more deadly of the two, offering a more soothing and reassuring tone to that of Basmadjian’s aggressive coercion, but whose acts come off as ultimately more violent and horrific. Her tone is flighty and selfish, communicating a persona with the ability to perform assault and mutilation at a heartbeat’s notice without so much as an afterthought for the consequences of the victim. The duo effortlessly fall into showing that their quest to sustain violent sexual fantasies is a practiced pattern, and an ongoing cycle which Fitch clearly leads.
Mariele Zammit’s Lily-Ann is a diminished role, yet perhaps the most telling and foreboding of them all. Her role in Jaime’s ordeal is perhaps the most unclear, as her indifference towards his suffering and awareness of the lengths her parents are capable of reaching contrast with the moments in which genuine affection for Jamie is shown. Zammit plays this perfectly, easily flitting from a self-absorbed phone zombie, to a concerned peer capable of tenderness and genuine affection. Her role remains dualistic and conflicting in nature, and gives an impression which leaves you never quite sure as to the true nature of her intentions. Is she well-meaning and trying to draw closer to the good, or is she simply a siren on the rocks, nothing more than a beautiful lure into destruction? Either way, the production never shows its hand.
Unintended is a disturbing piece of theatre and indubitably meant to provoke, and all the way through is nothing short of engaging. The rounded space of the Spazju Kreattiv makes for tight and cosy performance space, and this was deliberately used as an advantage to make the audience experience more immersive. The crowd I was sitting in was definitely invested and watching intently, with tension so thick, one may have required an axe to slice through the air. A provocative experience to say the least, Unintended is definitely worth a watch even for curiosity’s sake.
Contributed by Jessica Arena, Artsieve, 06/02/17
Unifaun Theatre revels in the abolition of censorship with sadistic abandon at St James Cavalier
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the contents of Pandora’s Box actually did spill out onto your living room carpet? I’m quite sure that this was one of the intentions, pun fully intended (there it goes again) in Unifaun’s new original play, “Unintended”, currently running at St James Cavalier. One can only approach writing about this piece with a good dose of deliberate lightness to maintain some modicum of sanity intact.
Producer turned writer Adrian Buckle, who created this play, discusses the idea behind the script and its extremely strong and explicit content as a means of shocking the audience into some form of realisation that the world around us is falling apart, that “our Freedom, our Democracy is crumbling”. Mr Buckle says that “We need extreme experiences to make us think. To wake up.” My concern is that the experiences which “Unintended” offers are simply gratuitous expressions of a frame of mind which is enjoying its ability to finally indulge in whatever it choses without having to worry about censorship restrictions. This effervescent sadistic display is cramming too much in too short a time frame. It simply became a case of “here’s another… and another… because I can, so there.”
In a scenario which runs like a cross between Meet the Parents and a snuff porno, starring Charles Manson and Myra Hindley; the play runs the gamut of the socially distasteful from a hint of reciprocal incestuous attraction, to substance abuse, rape, kidnap, battery and assault, torture, murder and necrophilia. Naïve and well-intentioned Jamie (Stephen Micallef) comes to pick up Lily-Ann (Mariele Zammit) at her parents’ house, with the intention to take her to the Silver Moon Ball; but her father, Martin (Mikhail Basmadjian) and her mother Diana (Joyia Fitch), have different plans for him. The play’s title is inspired by Muse’s eponymous song, whose protagonist doesn’t really care about the girl he is supposedly in love with, but makes an effort to appreciate her love for him and attempts to make her as happy as she makes him. The production in itself was slick and well-executed, with Romulado Moretti’s set having a living room decorated with cave paintings making its meaning clear as the scene descended into savagery.
Director Stephen Oliver specifically comments on his use of lip-synched songs to “juxtapose against the gritty action”, and it was a technique which served its purpose in terms of highlighting the horrors which unfolded. The shower scene between Lily-Ann and Jamie was a relief from the asphyxiating action which preceded it, although it was a chronological flashback. In fact, Ms Zammit and Mr Micallef’s solo scenes were the ones which worked the most because they were so cohesive. The play failed to sustain the cohesiveness it so badly needed because it was trying too many things at once. Rather than picking one or two aspects and focus on the motivation behind them, it went to town on effects without exploring the content or context. The contrast between Jamie’s family and Lily-Ann’s is rather clichéd in terms of the differences which ultimately reflect similarities. Mr Basmadjian and Ms Fitch’s interpretations fitted their characters’ intensely psychopathic personalities and fulfilled the script’s brief. The play however, does not manage to help to provoke thought or engage in whatever issues it may have referred to in veiled implications, rather it forces you to disengage and suppress in an attempt to purge the experience, thus going against its original intentions for extremity to serve a higher purpose.
We need real experiences to make us think, not extreme ones. As the envelope is pushed so far that it is practically falling over the edge, extremity is only contributing to further desensitisation, because while the play’s contents can easily be relived from a plethora of sources on the dark web, the mainstream media is also picking up on the action and taking it beyond dignity into voyeurism. I missed the idea of a piece having a proper sense of where it is headed. These days what surprises me is the ordinary – the tasteful. Hope, resilience, well-intentioned characters facing moral dilemmas – this is what I find truly extreme in the banality of the contemporary. Taking things to the extreme, much like a child throwing a tantrum, does nothing but generate noise, while self-control shows strength of character and generates resonance.
-Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 08/02/17
Musings of an Angry Mind
Unintended (Unifaun Theatre) – Spazju Kreattiv
In his programme note for the staging of his debut play “Unintended”, Adrian Buckle writes, “We need extreme experiences to make us think”. Buckle is also artistic director for Unifaun Theatre, a company synonymous with theatre productions that over the past few years have singlehandedly stretched the boundaries of local theatre productions by putting on plays which employ shock tactics to get their point across.
The central character of his play is Jamie (played by Stephen Mintoff) a well to do, young man in his late teens who is keeping his virginity intact until he meets the special person in his life. We also find out that Jamie was born out of wedlock to a workaholic, rich father and abusive mother. She wanted to abort him yet was forced to change her mind and ended up having to marry his father, a man she never loved. In spite of his domestic dramas and the bullying he experiences at school, Jamie has actually turned out into quite a decent human being; intelligent, principled and good-looking to boot. No wonder he stands out from the crowd and attracts the attention of Lily-Ann (played by Mariele Zammit), a high school colleague of his. Lily-Ann, on the other hand, is a sexually precocious girl who has decided that Jamie will be her date at her upcoming prom. On the night of her prom she insists that Jamie calls for her at her home to meet her parents. Lily-Ann’s parents turn out to be a pair of utter psychos. Lily-Anne’s mother Diana (played by Joyia Fitch) is a cross between Stifler’s Mum ( the nympho from the movie American Pie) and Hecuba (the vengeful queen from the Greek tragedy of the same name) whilst her father Martin (played by Mikhail Basmadjian) is a cross between the Mr Blonde (the psycho from the movie Reservoir Dogs) and George (from Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf).
I found the script to be uneven with a very strong start that had the right amount of tension and comic relief as well as a wonderfully surreal final act that had shades of Donnie Darko. Unfortunately I struggled to retain the same interest in most of the central act which I found gratuitous in its visuals and the dialogue pedestrian. Moreover, the central character of Jamie had too many elements thrown in to make him credible. On the other hand, all four actors handled the challenging script very well despite its unevenness and all gave well rounded performances. I was particularly intrigued by Joyia Fitch’s strong portrayal of Diana and look forward to seeing her in more productions on our stage.
The direction of the piece by Stephen Oliver matched the writing in terms of risk-taking and Oliver opted to adopt a device that Dennis Potter used extensively in his TV films, that of having the actors lipsynch to recorded songs mid-scene. Whilst I admire the use of such a technique, I must say that I do not find the technique to work as well in live theatre particularly in a space such as that at St James Cavalier. When used in TV (or film as in David Lynch’s excellent use of the device in Blue Velvet) the technique works best when it comes as a surprise and makes you remember that you are before a screen. Oliver’s Director’s Note unfortunately gave away the element of surprise and the fact that this device was used repeatedly in the first act weakened its effect with each episode.
Buckle’s first stab at staging his own work comes at a time when people are not easily shocked by anything much anymore. In the same programme note, he acknowledges that the Internet (and social media in particular) has now desensitised us and made the shocking seem almost mundane. Although the characters and subject matter of his play may come across as extreme to some, I doubt that the play will leave the effect that he desires as it does not engage the audience enough on an emotional level to care about Jamie. Buckle would do well to invest as much energy and craft into stirring people’s emotions as shocking them out of their comfort zones if he truly believes theatre to be a vital force of change.
-Jes Camilleri, Escape, 12/02/17
Job’s Submission to Evil in the 21st Century
A Review of the Play ‘Unintended’, by Adrian Buckle
They say that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, which would the awaiting destination all the more unintended… Such is the provocative and mind-boggling examination that I found myself haunted by as I drove my way home after watching Adrian Buckle’s ‘Unintended’.
On the surface lies a tale about one young man’s attempt to make a positive impression on his love interest’s parents. In the play’s opening scene, we are introduced to the nervous Jamie and the nonchalant Lily-Ann, awaiting the arrival of her parents in their sitting room from her mother’s doctor’s appointment. Jamie comes bearing a gift – an old cat from the animal sanctuary where he volunteers in his own free time. Jamie is presented as an eighteen-year-old humble and idealistic student coming from a well-off family who tops his grades at school and demonstrates his generosity by volunteering at the local animal sanctuary where he devotes his free time. Martin and Diana, Lily-Ann’s parents, arrive sometime after, just as soon as Jamie has been calmed by Lily-Ann, who has prematurely successfully reassured him that he has nothing to worry about and that she does, in fact, like him for who he really is. As soon as Martin informs him that the result of Diana’s doctor’s appointment was that Diana is allergic to animals, Jamie takes the cat aside, and in his attempt to free the cat who defends its safety with feral strength, ends up murdering the cat in cold blood while worrying about the scratches on his hands and what Martin and Diana shall think about the marks, instead of the fact that he has just taken the life of an innocent creature. This tragic scene is presented to the audience in stereotypical comical fashion. In fact, the audience members around me laugh and react positively to the fact that so far, this is a story about a boy seeking to impress the parents of his crush given this is the sort of comedic violence they are accustomed with watching on everyday television. I realise that in actual fact, this may be the most tragic instance of the whole play, since this is perhaps the only wilful act performed by Jamie in the play’s running time, where he intentionally sacrifices his ‘innocence’ at a moment’s notice. It is here that I begin to realise that this protagonist may have been doomed from the start of the play.
From a theological perspective of my humble interpretation of the play, the play may be viewed as a contemporary revision of the battle between good and evil which ensued in the Book of Job, where the playwright asks the question, ‘What if Job, God’s incorruptible candidate, were to be made to endure an excruciating level of hardship in a wager for the man’s soul between God and the Devil in the 21st century?’ After all, we are living in the era that may be equated by the more theological as a ‘Devil’s playground’, where he has so many more toys at his disposal and magic tricks up his sleeve to serve as a distraction to society at large, allowing him to invade unbeknownst to his prey. Within this context, Jamie is lured toward the brink of hell’s gate through the prospect of young love, only to have his hopes and dreams shattered by the levels of depravity which Jamie chooses to endure in order to appease Martin and Diana. The apathetic stance adopted by Jamie manifesting itself in the inability to made a solid stand against the vices which he is pressured into succumbing to ultimately leads to his downfall. Even if it is not he who actively pursues these vices, he allows others to inflict them upon him nonetheless. The irony lies in the fact that given that he chooses not to take a stand, given that he chooses to give in, the end result is the same as though he were to pursue these vices wilfully, with Jamie effectively giving into the submission of evil.
In the traditional proverb from the Book of Job, after having endured so many sacrifices, Job exclaims “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.” In comparison, it is interesting to note that in the second act of the play, where Jamie is naked in the shower, we assume that this scene chronologically occurred prior to the events that ensued in Martin and Diana’s household; as a result, nudity, implying a form of purity, was Jamie’s starting point. A stark departure from Job’s end result is that in end final act of the play, Jamie is blind and fully clothed in a Koala jumpsuit. The irony lies in the fact that he has finally managed to achieve a paternal love that he never had the leisure of cherishing before, albeit depraved. In this ‘resurrected’ form, Jamie is ironically in his most comfortable state, which begs the question as to whether some people, although blinded and severely abused of, prefer living in this accepted state of apathy where they are relieved of any and all responsibility, instead of having to resist the hardships which they may be faced to endure.
Several ques in the play will pause some scenes while giving way to songs by ‘Muse’, with one or more of the characters dancing to the music in these instances. In the second act of the play, we learn that Jamie is an avid fan of the band. This translates itself into a device that effectively breaks the tension in some of the play’s most stressful scenes, which is Jamie’s way of escaping the stressful situations with which he is faced in his mind’s eye. These were the only instances in which he was able to laugh in the face of evil, with Buckle sending a tongue-in-cheek message to the audience implying that art gives us strength in even the most miserable of situations. This strength may either be used to escape the stress for the briefest of times, or it may be used to evoke a sense of courage which may allow us to take a stand against evil. Jamie resorts to the former.
Another opinion of the philosophy behind the play is that whether or not the boy is dead at some point in time in the play (at first, I inclined towards the belief that Jamie was dead and was on his way to hell since the very beginning of the play) is actually immaterial. This alternative interpretation is based on the fact that the audience is witnessing the soul of the boy being escorted to the depths of hell, just a Dante Alighieri was accompanied by Virgil to Inferno, being escorted to witness forms of the seven deadly sins/vices which the Devil customarily uses to lure man.
The more theological interpretation may also be transposed onto the play’s political message; that is to say, that the demise of Jamie’s innocence in favour of his ruin is symbolic and reminiscent of an important contemporary turning point in history. In the play’s second act, the audience gets the impression that the protagonist is from the United Kingdom and that the play is set in 2016, just a few months ahead of the ‘Brexit’ Referendum. Jamie simply shrugged any plausible notion of Great Britain leaving the European Union just as the general worldwide population did in the case of the ‘Brexit’ vote and the run for the United States presidency with ultimately led to the election of President Donald Trump.
People may deny that an ignorant sense of hatred founded upon racism and intolerance still exist in modern societies, and yet people still need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. This is why we need plays like ‘Unintended’ to emphasise and remind us about what we have been ignoring all along. The gravity is only made aware and delivered more effectively thanks to Buckle’s ‘in-yer-face’ theatrical representation, which is reminiscent of the devices adopted by the likes of Anthony Neilson and Sarah Kane. While there shall be those who will undoubtedly criticise Buckle for purposely seeking to shock his audience, is this not, in fact, one of the play’s virtues? I, myself, admit that I did indeed feel awkward and uncomfortable at times, especially when you consider that I was watching the play with a surprising number of relatives who attended this particular performance of the play. But is that not the point of why we, the audience, attended the performance in the first place? Why must we shy away from this uncharted territory? Would we rather be shocked by the revelation of the true horror of evil’s guise, or deny its existence, allowing it all the time in the world to spread like an unattended malignant cancer at both a personal and sociological level? Whatever your interpretation of the play, its message is loud and clear: Should we remain passive in the face of our virtues being mocked and challenged and should we adopt an apathetic stance in the wake of the spread of evil in men’s hearts, we shall be made to endure disaster of all that we hold dear and which we proclaim to believe in. That which is unintended shall be occasioned by our inaction, and shall consequently become our reality.
-Mark Anthony Debono, Facebook, 13/02/17
Playing happy families
There’s a lot of potential in Unintended – the debut script by Unifaun Theatre founder and producer Adrian Buckle – but it’s buried in a sea of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre clichés, Teodor Reljic finds.
Directed by Stephen Oliver for Unifaun Theatre Productions, the pre-prom romance gone wrong play Unintended is penned by Adrian Buckle – the founder of Unifaun and producer of all of its plays. Unifaun have staked a claim on the local theatrical scene for offering up ‘in-yer-face’ theatre at a regular basis, and sometimes caught serious flack for it (vide the Stitching saga) so this move feels like an organic one: their producer coming out of his shell to finally take his own stab – pun not intended – at the kind of theatre he has helped to import into the island.
Teodor Reljic, Malta Today, 23/02/17