Get ready for an alternate reality involving homicidal grandmasters and do-gooding angels as The Dazzle Troupe is back with The History of Malta Burlesque show. I caught up with the members of the perennially popular Schlock troupe– Peter Farrugia, Teodor Reljic and Bettina Borg Cardona – who will be taking part in the show with a sketch.
The premise of this edition of the show is hilariously simple: what if you were to learn that aliens landed on Malta during the Neolithic Age and planted a device to monitor the island’s developing life? However, upon their return 11, 000 years later, they find out that their machine has malfunctioned and all their records are scrambled! Watch what performers Alex Vella Gregory, Veronica Stivala, Alex Spiteri Gingell, Joseph Zammit, the above-mentioned Schlcok Troupe, Marie Claire Camilleri, Lizzie Eldridge, Maria Pia Meli, Marie Claire Pellegrini, Marta Vella, Philip Leone-Ganado, Yannick Massa, Nathan Brimmer and Franco Rizzo do with the whole scenario.
But back to the Schlock Troupe: what are they planning to foist on the unsuspecting audience? The three have cherry-picked from local history and habits to form their own sketch – “historical, geographical or any other form of accuracy be damned”. The trio’s sketch features the tourist-friendly figure of La Valette, “not as you know him, let’s just say he’s closer to a mad Roman emperor than an enlightened Renaissance figure this time around”. There will also be an angel, a German tourist, a bidwi and a trendy ‘Sloane’ beauty thrown into the fray. How will the three characters meet, and how will they distributed over just three performers? That’s a question they understandably refuse to spoil with an answer in print. Just expect a lot of dark humour, naughty rhymes, gender-bending and unexpected twists.
The show is held over one weekend from 23-25 March 2012, starting at 21:00 at Space 43, Lascaris Wharf, Valletta. Tickets for the event are 10 Euros and the show is rated 18+. For bookings email on email@example.com or by phone/sms on 79911200.
“The sketch is written by a trio of Maltese people, so the local landscape is implicit. We’ve set the action in La Valette’s palace and there’s a surreal scene at the Pitkali vegetable vendors between a disgruntled farmer and a bewildered tourist. A lot of the show pokes fun at typically Maltese social constructs and attitudes, so it’s definitely playing to a home audience – but foreigners who visit the show pick up on a lot of that too. The more intimate you get with your humour, the more universal the jokes tend to become.
La Valette is being played by Bettina; we also have a psychopathic nobleman with a taste for human flesh, an uppity Angel (played by myself) who’s trying to get the grandmaster to change his ways, and a hapless farmer (played by Teodor) who gets caught up in the story.
The script was written over several days and the rush normally helps us, creatively. We write together and just try to make each other laugh. There are a few things that we look out for, to know whether we’re on the right track – if Bettina says it’s too horrible to include we know that it’s going in and if I start complaining about my lines, we know that things are running smoothly.”
“As has become standard for Schlock Troupe, the sketch will be big, dark and very, very rude. Let’s just say that historical purists will probably hate it, and that the spirit of La Valette will not be too happy with us either – but hopefully the rest of the audience will go along with our little ‘morality play’!
The humour is of the darker – and sometimes outright gross – variety. But our inspiration comes from a number of sources – chief of which are some of the luminaries of the British comedy school – think Blackadder, Fry and Laurie and Monty Python – so there will be quite a bit of puns and wordplay in there too. With this burlesque we’ll also be experimenting with verse, and including some Maltese lines for the very first time, so we’re very eager to see how the audience will respond to this particular sketch!
As for any possible Rocky Horror show elements, you can certainly expect a couple of ‘sweet transvestites’! Well, there will definitely be cross-dressing and a couple of crazy ideas involving space and time-travel, all wrapped up in a very bawdy tone, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to compare it to Rocky Horror.
This edition’s sketch was among the least challenging to fit into (not sure if my Schlock Troupe colleagues agree!) – probably because it was quite specific, when compared to some of the other shows, while also giving us plenty of historical characters/eras to choose from, so that we immediately had a number of personages and images in mind before we even started. Of course, the fact that the premise allows for total ‘poetic license’ when it comes to historical accuracy was the greatest help.
“I think we’re all inclined towards humour of a darker nature, and this time we’ve pushed the envelope just that little bit further. We’re pretty influenced by British comedy, which at the moment can be pretty dark. It’s become a bit of a running joke that as the only female in the troupe, I’m sometimes a little reluctant to go ahead with some of the more provocative ideas we come up with… but when I eventually cave I’m usually the one laughing loudest.
Our sketch this time has plenty of larger-than-life, fabulous characters. I think taking on the Baroque period for this sketch spurred us to amplify those elements even further. The ‘story’ is set in Malta at the time of the Knights and centres around La Valette and a Maltese farmer, but it’s very much an alternate history. We’ve taken more than a few liberties, especially with the La Valette character. In this version La Valette is more than a little drunk on power and has turned into the worst sort of deranged ruler. Getting the sketch sorted involved a process of meeting up and scribbling away madly together in various venues around Valletta. I’d say being in the capital city provided quite a bit of inspiration.
And the fave parts from the last edition of Burlesque?
PF: Definitely the Olive-headed Octopus Stripper. Nicole Cuschieri (our director) made that costume and Marie Clare Camilleri was the right kind of seductive – even with a giant olive on her head.
TR: If you mean what aspect of performing in the show I enjoyed the most… just the fact of being able to perform live and make people laugh is the greatest thrill. Especially given how outright strange and rude some of our material is, there’s a very basic (juvenile?) pleasure in having the opportunity to shock and amuse – one that we indulge in wholeheartedly.
I also thought that the Monster Burlesque Cruise at the Black Pearl was one of our best shows yet, and the venue really complemented the theme – which made us all feel like we were putting on something special.
BBC: What I love about the Burlesque shows is that they encompass so much more than just the on-stage performance. They’re like entering a strange world, where ordinary expectations are left behind, and we want the audience to be as involved in the strangeness as possible. I think the last show, the Burlesque Monster Cruise, was especially effective in this regard, it was really fun to perform on board a real-life creaky wooden ship.
Why should we get off our butts to come see you guys?
PF: Because it’s all about alternative theatre in Malta. It’s just a bit of fun, and because of the format (lots of sketches strung together) you’re bound to see something that will make you laugh. There’s nothing quite like it on the island and that’s what makes the Burlesque shows such a success with such a varied audience.
TR: You will not see anything like it. You will hear things you never thought you’d hear. Also, you will never look at La Valette in the same way again.
BBC: I don’t think there’s anything else like it. Local artists are given ten minute slots and allowed to come up with pretty much whatever mad-cap ideas they’d like to explore, within a given theme. It’s a zany variety show in which the audience is taken along for the ride, and a pretty unique experience.
This interview was published on The Times TV Guide(Times of Malta)