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 STITCHING

by Anthony Neilson

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Tebut Isfar

ta ' Clare Azzopardi

 

IXTRI L-BILJETTI HAWN.

 

 

 

Title:   Game

Playwright:   Brad Birch

Co Production:   Teatru Malta

Direction:   Lisa Ferlazzo Natoli & Alessandro Ferroni

Cast:   Malcolm Galea, Erica Muscat, Stephen Oliver, Julia Camilleri, Davide Tucci

Set Design:   Romualdo Moretti

Sound Design:   Alessandro Ferroni

Dates: 17, 18, 21, 23, 24 June 2018

Venue:   Ta' Qali Stadium

The manager of the club has just died, leaving family and club in disarray.  Now everyone around him must pick the pieces and think of the best way forward.

 

 

What the Papers Said:

 

 

The dark side of the game

The National Stadium hosts the world premiere of a new Birch play

 

Loss is an inevitable human emotion which must be endured, often for survival or as a forced, unwanted rite of passage. Whether the negativity that it creates can be used to channel a better final outcome, or whether its destructive forces spread and fester beyond its point of origin depends in great part on the strength of character of those affected, as well as their ability to deal with the trauma of those around them.

Loss is at the heart of Brad Birch’s new play Game, which saw its world premiere take place in the open-air VIP stand at the National Stadium in Ta’ Qali.

While its overlying subject matter and vehicle is football and the relationship that people have with it, there are subtler and much darker undertones which go far beyond fandom and explore the ugly truths behind the beautiful game.

Teatru Malta has teamed up with Unifaun to produce this very nuanced play that deals with grief and loss of a parent, friend, mentor and coach; along with the loss of loyalty and disillusionment that goes with uncomfortable truths, which seem to rise to the surface when you least expect them to.

The direction of Lisa Ferlazzo Natoli and Alessandro Ferroni gave this 90-minute performance a well-timed and sharply choreographed feel, in spite of the occasionally random tableaux-like sequences which interjected the hyperrealistic scenes and complimented Romualdo Moretti’s excellent set – a restaurant at which a wake has just taken place.

 

The play is set in Malta, which is not initially obvious because of the ambiguity of the characters’ cultural identities – an implication that this could be adapted to suit any locality. What matters are the relationships between the characters and the manner in which they each pull each other’s strings.  Indeed, it was the barely perceptible undertone of blended cultural vision drawing on Maltese, British and Italian influences with the local setting, the playwright’s idiosyncratically stark northern outlook, coupled with the directors’ Italianate styling, which gave the piece an oddly cosmopolitan, foreign yet familiar feel, which I found worked very well.

Chris Gatt’s very suggestive lighting design complemented Ferroni’s sound design – which cast an ominous and rather heavy tone of introspection over the piece. This served to enhance the contrast between the calm and resigned exteriorisation of grief which the characters had, and their inner demons. In a world cast in doubt by the scandal and tarnishing effects of corruption.

Malcolm Galea played the restrained Chris, who helps run the restaurant which his wife Daniela (Erica Muscat) built up as a personal venture away from his family legacy.

 

The football club where his father George was manager for many years is part of his family’s blood but their loyalty to it and consequently their father, bound them to pay a hefty price: sacrificing their individuality for something that was greater than them.

Inexorably bound are also Chris’s younger sister Lisa (Julia Ann Camilleri), her boyfriend, team captain, Anthony (Davide Tucci) and the club president Peter (Stephen Oliver). Public grief at George’s death contrasts with loyalty and resentment as simmering tensions bubble over following Peter’s damning revelations.

The greater part of the piece is sustained by Muscat, Oliver and Galea, who gave a very studied and cautious performance which complimented the tension and subtleties of Muscat’s resolute Daniela and a great performance by Oliver whose forthright role as benevolent patriarchal substitute was buoyed by a desire to keep his club afloat and its reputation intact.

Their outwardly calm demeanour clashed with the restlessness of Camilleri’s pained Lisa – a young woman who cannot bear the heartlessness of death nor the horror of the truth, but who manages to handle it with remarkable sang froid once she makes her peace with it.

Tucci’s steadfast Anthony was a different advocate of loyalty in the face of disillusionment, regret and disgust.

Game was a well-cast, thought-provoking assessment of the ties that bind and often constrict, linking the loss of a loved one to loss of control and autonomy in a character study that looks at how external corruption can corrupt you from within.

A great new play and very appropriately launched given World Cup season: not one to miss.

-Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 20/06/2018

 

 

 The Sins of the Father

In another theatrical coup, Unifaun Productions teamed up with Teatru Malta to host the world premiere of acclaimed British playwright Brad Birch’s latest play, Game.

The play centres around what is typically referred to as the beautiful game of football. It was wisely commissioned to have its premiere coincide with this year’s edition of the greatest football competition, the World Cup and designed to be staged in our national stadium.

This was Teatru Malta’s second play that centred around sport, the first one being their debut production Raymond Fight Beck, that dealt with boxing in Malta. 

It’s refreshing to see new theatrical work being written about aspects of Malta, other than our folklore and history. Yet, I can’t say I was convinced that Birch was really basing his play around a local situation, despite giving the family at the centre of his play a distinct local surname.

In this play, Birch continues his exploration of the themes of corruption and family ties that local audiences have already had the pleasure of witnessing, with his version of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, titled En Folkefiende, that was also produced by Unifaun.

This time around he focuses on the Vella family, where football at the heart of family matters.

Chris (Malcolm Galea) is the son of the local football team’s manager who has recently passed away unexpectedly. A former star player of the same team, Chris has now moved on from football and helps run his wife Daniela’s (Erica Muscat) restaurant that is affiliated with the football club.

Chris’s sister Lisa is also seeing Anthony (Davide Tucci) who is the current team captain, beloved by Chris’ father despite the fact that he missed the decisive penalty in the recent final.

The play opens with Chris and Daniela clearing up the restaurant after the wake that followed the funeral. The scene is sombre and uneasy. They are surprised by a late night visit from Peter, the club’s president who over the course of the evening reveals to them the dark secrets that Chris’s father had kept from his family and the club’s fans; secrets which have now been passed on to his family and wedge Chris between a rock and a hard place.

The choice of location for the play, though clever, unfortunately did not really add much to the directors’ (Lisa Ferlazzo Natoli and Alessandro Ferroni) efforts to transcend the realism of Birch’s text, as was hinted at in the programme note.

The play is set entirely in the restaurant, against a dark backdrop  of the stadium. This did little to reinforce the idea that the game of football was being used as a metaphor for life. Birch, actually includes numerous ‘interludes’ for the actors to break from the realism of their dialogue. However, most of the actors clearly seemed uncomfortable with the break.

Ferroni’s sound design was much more effective in creating the ambiance that I could sense was behind the directors’ intentions. Romualdo Moretti’s set design along with Chris Gatt’s light design, both combined beautifully to transform empty stadium terraces into an evocative setting, but I struggled to feel engaged with the piece.

Typical of Unifaun, this was another gamble. Hats off to them and Teatru Malta for continuing to take risks.

 

-Jes Camilleri, The Sunday Times of Malta, 01/07/18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images by Darrin Zammit Lupi