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 STITCHING

by Anthony Neilson

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Tebut Isfar

ta ' Clare Azzopardi

 

IXTRI L-BILJETTI HAWN.

 

 

Title:   Collapse

Author:   Adrian Buckle

Direction:   Dave Barton

Cast:   Jeffrey Kieviet, Whitney Ellis, Ashley Allen, Bryan Jennings

Set Design:   Romualdo Moretti, Joseph Galea

Make Up:   Jackie Grima

Costumes:   Nicole Cuschieri

Venue:   Spazju Kreattiv Main Theatre, St James Cavalier

Dates:   17, 18, 23, 24, 25 February, 2, 3, 4 March 2018

Summary:    Set in a dystopian future under siege, the streets are chaotic and violent, with armed soldiers raping and killing at whim. A young woman named Greta lives together with her damaged boyfriend Robbie. Robbie is not allowed outside for the sake of his safety. The lovers have created a bullet-proof bubble around themselves, full of stories and fairy tales, oblivious to the trouble outside . . . until Stella comes to visit. Then Greta and Robbie’s world is turned upside down.

 

 

 

What the Papers Said:

 Breaking down our Sheltering Walls

Unifaun explores the connection between love, trust and violence.

 

It is interesting to see how the human psyche is so very powerful when it comes to protecting us from the terrible realities that happen around us and sadly, at times, to us directly.

Unifaun Theatre is presenting its second original play Collapse, currently doing its maiden run at Spazju Kreattiv. Under Dave Barton’s cogent and strong direction, Adrian Buckle’s new script may appear at times rather disjointed at first, with individually strong scenes which seem to have a tenuous connection, but this effect only adds to the play’s concluding and very cohesive point made in the final scene – where the previous events fall neatly into place as the character’s lives unravel in a downward spiral of anguish.

Greta (Whitney Ellis) infuses her reality with elements of a fantasy world populated by her vulnerable fiancé Robbie (Jeffrey Kieviet) who seems to have Asperger’s, and her colleague and friend, Stella (Ashley Allen).

Her apparently benevolent older brother Aaron (Bryan Jennings) is often called upon as a point of reference and advice for the young couple. Thus established, the four main characters in the play are set against a backdrop of stories steeped in folk and fairy tales, where the often darker, suppressed violence of human nature lies in wait, lurking beneath the surface of a twee and innocent plot, evident only in undertones of a ridiculously religious nature or those of sexual deviance.

Romualdo Moretti’s set design and Chris Gatt’s lighting created the right mood for these metafictive mind games which evolve from Greta as a means of safeguarding her from the terrible reality she so desperately wants to suppress.

Ellis masterfully and subtly changes her character stance based on the varying aspects of the three personae she plays: the fairy tale princess, the Greta she inhabits in the world of her own making and the Greta stripped bare to the horrid reality she exists in with her brother Aaron.

 Allen shifts brilliantly from benevolent Holy Mother, protector of Kieviet’s fairy tale Frog Prince, to bold, sensuous and dangerous Stella in Greta’s world. Her treatment of Kieviet’s Robbie varies from kindness to stern punishment as his innocence is lost when he disobeys her, falling from grace and banished to the world of mortals, later transmuting from Frog Prince to Greta’s fiancé.

Kieviet himself portrays confused innocence and reluctant guilt very well and his violation after his arrival in the world of men denounces the hypocrisy of the power wielded by those we trust with our well-being.

Later we realise that he is not the only one to be harmed, and that Greta uses her imagined position as his caring protector to mitigate the pain and horror she feels at her own systematic abuse.

Essentially good, Greta becomes a victim of her trust in others and attempts to suppress her torment by making Robbie her cause.

Jennings’ calm and insidious Aaron, who in Christian tradition led the Jews into safety, goes against his mythological nature and looms as a dark spectre over all. His horrific mistreatment of Greta proves Friar Lawrence’s strongest line in Shakespeare’s tragedy of doomed love: “These violent delights have violent ends.”

Collapse makes for some very thought-provoking theatre and while the resolution in the final scene is crucial to our understanding of the play’s development, it is well-paced in its dynamics and gripping in its delivery.

It isn’t light entertainment, but serious criticism and aims to open our eyes to the realities we tend to ignore. It is certainly a show to look out for if you’re in need of a wake-up call.

 -Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 23/02/18

 

 

A very strong narrative

 

Jes Camilleri reviews Adrian Buckle’s sophomore script, Collapse, being produced at Spazju Kreattiv.

In the programme’s Author’s Note, Unifaun founder Adrian Buckle acknowledges the strong influence of the brothers Grimm’s fairy tales on his sophomore play Collapse,  staged by Unifaun Theatre Productions at Spazju Kreattiv. The Grimms’ fairy tales were built around a collection of oral folk tales and they were initially much criticised, as they were not considered to be suitable for children due to some of the subject matters covered, namely sex and violence.

Sex and violence are two central motifs that link Buckle’s latest play with his debut offering, Unintended, staged in the same space a year ago. Set primarily inside an apartment, in an undefined location where a violent conflict is raging in the streets, a young woman by the name of Greta (Whitney Ellis) is holed up with her boyfriend Robbie (Jeffrey Kieviet).

Greta, is a somewhat naive character that is clearly still suffering from a damaged past, despite her outwardly calm demeanour. Robbie, on the other hand, shows clear signs of a disturbed mind and social inadequacy.

Greta’s brother, Aaron is a regular visitor to the apartment. He plays the part of the protective, older brother to Greta and tries in vain to convince her that Robbie “cannot give her what she needs”.

Another visitor to the apartment is Stella (Ashley Allen) a close friend of Greta and Aaron’s who seeks refuge in the apartment while fleeing from the chaos reigning outside. Hers is clearly the most complex character, and turns out to be the catalyst for the ensuing chaos that consumes the play’s characters within the four walls of the apartment.

By using the fairy-tale device as his ‘centre’, Buckle has created a very strong narrative, one that he juxtaposes very skilfully with a number of biblical and religious motifs. I would have liked to see this interplay between the sacred and the profane taken further than attempted.

One interesting idea was that of using the same actress to play both the Virgin Mary and the ‘evil’ seductress. This Madonna-whore complex could have led to a deeper exploration of the relationship between love and sex that Buckle references in the programme.

What made this intriguing script resonate, however, was the clarity provided by the direction of Dave Barton (his best work locally since Attempts on Her Life). Barton chose to work with a talented quartet of actors in the US prior to bringing them over for the final technical rehearsals.

The four actors were all very well cast and each gave very strong performances. Barton adds a deft surreal touch to the script and, by bringing out the child in each character, the idea of using the fairy tale device works a treat.

Just as he had done in Attempts on Her Life a couple of years ago, Barton also uses the tricky space at St James Cavalier to the full by making excellent use of the balcony and the alcove below it as ancillary acting spaces.

Equally vital was the strong coherence of the visual elements courtesy of Romualdo Moretti (for the set), Nicole Cuschieri (for the costumes), Anthony Catania (for the artwork) and Chris Gatt (for the lighting). The close attention to detail and the bold use of a very limited and deliberate palette of black and red gave the whole production a strong sense of place that focused the audience’s attention on the essential elements.

The only weakness I felt was in the sound design, where the evocation of the mood outside the apartment failed to create the sense of dread that was referenced in the script.

With Collapse, Buckle seems to be finally finding his voice. He has toned down his earlier penchant for the shocking and provocative and channelled his passion and anger into a well-balanced and ultimately gripping script.

While wearing his references a little bit too obviously on his sleeve, he is slowly but steadily honing his scriptwriting skills and establishing himself as a unique and very valid contributor to the very limited pool of local playwrights. I look forward to his next project.

 

An ambitious leap forward

 Adrian Buckle's sophomore play-writing effort Collapse enjoys solid performances and inspired staging, but it's cut down by the writer-producer's default theatrical obsessions.

 

The fact that Unifaun Theatre are a dogged reality of the local theatrical scene is something of a blessing in our microscopic cultural ecology; if nothing else, the brainchild of founder and producer Adrian Buckle provides a sobering and sometimes shocking respite from the safe “good nights out” which are offered up by the semi-professional theatre companies that otherwise dominate our stages.

Buckle's decision to plunge into play-writing himself is also a welcome development – it gives us a much-needed breath of homegrown English-language scripts to experience and, hopefully, also export. His debut last year – Unintended, directed by Stephen Oliver and, like his latest, staged at Spazju Kreattiv – showed potential. Buckle has certainly internalised some good habits from the voluminous and varied plays he's helped stage as producer, and his handle on both banter and rising tension lays solid foundation.

It's a shame, then, that his fanboy-like obsession with what we can broadly call the “in-yer-face” theatre genre leads him into some complacent artistic alleyways, resulting in work that, at its lowest ebbs, resembles fan-fiction of a sub-genre that is resistent to the very idea of such idolatrous representation.

'Collapse' – performed over February 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 and March 2-4 – was helmed by frequent Unifaun collaborator Dave Barton, who brought over an international cast of US-based performers to breathe life into Buckle's second produced script. A script which, as Buckle's introductory note in the play's programme states, was written at the height of the 'Stitching' controversy which dominated cultural discourse throughout 2009 and 2010, eventually helping lead the overhaul of Malta's censorship laws.

Steeped as these very laws were in now-archaic notions of propriety and religious apostasy, it comes as no surprise that Buckle's play is animated by an engine of anger against such repressive socio-political mechanisms. Set in what resembles a post-apocalyptic world which has now become stock-in-trade for the genres Buckle likes to play with, Collapse is also laced with religious imagery and swims in Christian archetypes; most powerfully embodied by the Madonna-like figure played with a caustic dose of sarcasm by Ashley Allen. The fact that Allen is also charged with playing a 'femme fatale' figure – she enters into the lives of her naive friend and colleague Greta (Whitney Ellis) and her child-like supposed lover Robbie (Jeffrey Kieviet) to take shelter from the “wolves” outside, causing no small amount of disruption – is an inspired twist on the knife on Buckle's part.

One wonders if such a move would have been deemed “acceptable” some seven or so years ago, but beyond such polemical speculations, it still stands as a powerful indictment against the notion that a woman can only be either a Madonna or a Whore – a notion kickstarted into being by the patriarchal status quo and given quite a bit of help from monotheistic religions the world over. It becomes all the more of a topical thematic strand in a play that is, effectively, about a female character's agency in a world that's always out to smother it. Ellis's Greta is initially presented as passive, even submissive to a fault, but the twists that underlie Buckle's complex narrative soon reveal this to be a mere foil, with the outwardly benevolent brother figure of Aaron (Bryan Jennings) in turn being shown up as a staunch member of that same patriarchal order we mentioned earlier.

While the play's dystopian setting and 'shocking' twists will by now feel like mere cliches to those with even a passing familiarity with Buckle's preferred theatrical modes, the cast were routinely excellent in their roles, and the staging and set design – the latter overseen by Unifaun regular Romualdo Moretti – creates the right “dark fairytale” atmosphere that Buckle and Barton were clearly going for. This disturbing blend is embodied most potently in Kieviet's Robbie – on whose blunt naivete the hammer of the world, inevitably, falls down hard. But while Ellis does a fine job of playing put-upon but “realistic”, and while Jennings's bumbling and physically lumbering performance is a perfect fit for a character embodying remorseless abuse passed off as “help”, it's Allen's performance that really sticks in the mind.

Stella's sadistic streak is revealed to be a result of her engagement with the merciless world “outside” – as contrasted with Greta's insistence on barricading herself, and Robbie, away from it – and she proves herself most useful when the occasion calls for it, both in terms of vindictive action and carnal pleasure. Allen is cheeky, seductive and powerful in equal measure, and the performer's confident grasp of the character elevates each of the scenes she's in with an electric energy.

And speaking of energy, the play moves at a steady – if somewhat fragmented – clip. The use of music is effective throughout – though none of the dance sequences here quite match the commitment to Muse's oeuvre in Buckle's debut – and lends a necessary salve from the horror when it does appear. It helps to remind us that these characters are human – at least for the duration of the bulk of the narrative – and extends an olive branch of relateable emotion to the audience. However, the many and abrupt scene changes simply felt like hesitation; the desire to jump from one thing to another so quickly a result of nervousness, not dynamism, on the playwright's part.

Buckle's script ultimately falters towards the end, as he sadly defaults to the “it was all in your head” trope to explain away the many layers of this otherwise complex tangle of fears and neuroses. This is where his recourse to staid narrative devices undercuts the subversive edge of his project, and one hopes that future productions will lead to more original and rigorously thought-out storytelling.

However, Collapse remains a worthwhile experience, and an apt continuation of Buckle's career as a playwright as well as producer of some of Malta's most noteworthy and envelope-pushing productions. Blending the fairy tale idiom with a post-apocalyptic narrative inflected by the 'in-yer-face' theatrical tradition, it's certainly an ambitious leap forward that does suffer a few scrapes and bruises on landing.

But as the play's programme also reveals in its back pages in which Unifaun advertises future productions, it certainly seems as though Buckle is far from ready to give up just yet.

 -Teodor Reljic, MaltaToday, 11/03/18

 

 

What the Patrons said:

Mr. Buckle’s venture in dystopic play-writing has this time around succeeded in fully grabbing my attention for the whole of the 90-minute rendition. This was thought-provoking to say the least, which is what a truly good artistic piece should offer. Dealing with love, sex and violence, this dystopic performance came to me very timely as I am mid-way into reading Alias Grace, wherein Atwood tackles these same basal instincts in human beings. If you like to stimulate your lobes and enjoy a great piece of theatre, then I suggest you do not miss out watching Collapse.  -Marvic Gatt

 

 

This appraisal was not meant to be a review whatsoever, but as I began writing this as soon as I stepped out of the Spazju Kreattiv building up until I found myself finishing off around 3 steps away from my home, I realised just how much there is to appreciate about this production and how the cast and crew should be so proud of being a part of something as exceptional as this. So without further ado, this is what I have to say about the thrilling piece of theatre, “Collapse”.

I only have one word to say after watching this show: wow!

Extremely stellar acting that was brought out so tremendously through the direction of Dave Barton, especially for such a challenging yet compelling piece of theatre written so stupendously by Adrian Buckle, who I had the pleasure of working with backstage in his other production “Metamorfosi”.

Honestly had no idea of what to expect out of this as I tried to know as little as possible about this show before watching it, but that’s what made it all the more enjoyable to watch. Was thoroughly surprised, entertained and kept at the edge of my seat throughout, trying to unravel what could possibly be going on in this story as I continued watching. Only thing I do recommend is checking the age restriction, ended up being a tad too surprised at times.

A special mention has to go to the breathtaking set design that descended from the creative and captivating mind of Romualdo Moretti. Was honest to god left gobsmacked as soon as I set foot in the theatre, as it not only made the simple Spazju Kreattiv space unrecognisable, but eventually ended up offering a role in one of the best revelations in a theatre piece I have seen so far.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves being challenged by what theatre has to offer, and for those who would love to know just how much a mere one and a half hour performance can leave you thinking even after it’s been around an hour since bows were taken. - Kyra Lautier

 

COLLAPSE OF TIME AND RISE OF THEATRE

At a time when technology is terribly advancing, we live in a shortage of values. Moral, spiritual, and emotional. At a time in which art, the true one, wild, honest, uncensored and above all – free; rarely survives. It's true, but the theater is eternal and irreconcilable. The play "Collapse", in production of Unifaun Theatre from Malta, prove that. Those little theatre enthusiasts, whom I met on Malta, warned me that the performances here are reaching the maximum quality of skilfully packaged sketches, jokes and childish gags. Fortunately, last night I was convinced that this was not always the case. A complete team, beginning with Adrian Buckle, director Dave Barton and great actors such as: Whitney Ellis as Greta, Jeffrey Kieviet as Robbie, Ashley Allen as Stella and Brian Jennings as Aaron – make this play worth beyond any possible imaginations and expectations.

The beginning of the play is naive and innocent, like the birth of a child. Like the creation of the world, God, heaven and hell. Like the appearance of the first angels and demons. In a country that has 365 churches, you would say, for each day of the year you got one; in a country where the primary religion is Catholic and which allows the relationships between the same sexes, in a country where the use of narcotic drugs is permitted without (more serious) interventions by the police; there is, however, a public secret here. Something that is talked about with a mockery or anxiety, depending on what kind of person you are. It is well known that if they wanted to survive as a nation, the Maltese people have been forced to make marriages between themselves. Among relatives. Closer and further ones. The consequences of this, unfortunately, are very visible today. One very important part of this, terrible history, makes this play what it is. Of course, the author and the director confusedly masked this by talking about the  fallen angels, fairy-tale characters of good and evil, Adam, Eve, and the snake. If that does not suffice, the story has another layer. They push us to ask ourselves why Greta and Robbie sometimes have exactly the same actions when Stella speaks, or why Greta and Stella have the same actions when Robbie is speaking. Taking of layer by layer, the play talks about love and sex and the survival of the species. Can these first two terms be in the coalition today, when we are increasingly condemned to animal instincts? The symbol of the bull as the symbol of fertility, the bloodthirsty and the all-powerful, we all hide and respect it deeply in ourselves. We only manifest ourselves differently.

In the end, we have a complete turnover. The demolition of the third wall, while the two walls on the sides are in the mirrors with grids, while from the ceiling there is a cross which is set upside down, a stack and an image frame, which is also a symbol of the mirrors and windows in the upper or lower world. Depending on the perspective. When the third wall falls, we see Greta in a crazy shirt treated by the same brother who sexually exploited her. Stella and Robbie, her two alter ego's as it turned out to be, help Greta finally get rid of her enemy and suffering. We are born in the blood and we die in the blood. Sometimes this blood is visible to everyone and sometimes to only few. After all, everything spins around the blood. Especially in this country, but not because the war. On the contrary, because of the "love". This is not all, because than, the actors turn to us, the audience, alluding to the fourth wall and to us as the most violent and mad wolves. We are the most realistic picture of the society, that keeps mouth shut and does not react to all the horrors we allow ourselves. We even embrace this innocent piece of meat like hyenas, or starving wolves.

In the end, there is a bitter taste in the mouth. Not only because the performance is so lifelike and strikes us like a hammer in the head; but also because of the bad and, above all, the poor reaction of the audience. One applause, which lasted only three minutes, did not even pay close tribute to the great acting of the actors, as well as the director's signature; and the great courage of the author and his theme and idea. This performance personally restored my faith and love in the theatre. In all his power and beauty. The freedom that it give to us and the knowledge that enriches our mind and soul.

 -Sinisa Tesanovic

 

Tonight I went to watch a play at Spazju Kreattiv (aka St. James). Collapse written by Adrian Buckle and Directed by Dave Barton is a play that will make you think throughout, trying to understand beyond what you are watching, because obviously there is more than meets the eye. A play worth watching. For those who are interested in a well crafted piece of theatre with strong scenes and a stronger story. Well done also to the actors who were able to sustain an intense script. I definitely suggest those who haven't seen it to go and watch it. Only two shows remain this weekend. Only for mature audiences. - James Sultana

Pics by Darrin Zammit Lupi