Good theatre productions in the Maltese language – and by this I mean that the original script was conceived in Maltese, as opposed to translated/adapted to our language – are few and far between. Kjaroskur, which premiered yesterday at St James Cavalier, is definitely top of the list.
Penned by Simone Spiteri (of Du Theatre fame) and directed by Chris Gatt, it delivers a natural, flowing narrative about a day in the lives of two brothers and their respective wives, based on the premise of “what if we could re-live a particular day and correct all that we screwed up?”
One of the concerns that such a production brings with it is the fact that with only four characters to deliver the story on a fixed set, things can easily get, well, boring. Add the fact that this story revolves around the psychological tensions between couples and it is only too easy to fall into the trap of histrionics and overly projected, emotional dialogue, making you cringe as supposed husbands and wives shout at each other. Kjaroskur doesn’t.
A lot of the merit goes to Spiteri herself, who takes on the role of the (innocent, bubbly, a tad naive?) Helen. From the very opening scene, Spiteri makes the role hers completely, with a disarmingly natural demeanor that somehow gives the audience the impression that they are actually eavesdropping on a private conversation. This feeling of “life as it really happens” is the strongest point of the production and all four members of the cast carry it off beautifully. Whether they are whispering sweet nothings to one another or telling each other to “fuck off”‘, the end result is nothing that you couldn’t picture your own friends saying/doing.
The script also plays a good part in the successful portrayal of the characters, cleverly using what I like to call the “Malti tat-triq“, ie contemporary Maltese spoken the colloquial way – which, like it or not, mostly means interjecting the occasional phrase in English. Scripted Maltese dialogue tends to sound artificial precisely because few people in Malta actually speaks the pure version of the language. And even when this is taken into account at the scripting stage, it is difficult to gauge the rhythm of the English-to-Maltese ratio, unless it happens naturally. Spiteri is spot on with hers and I can see why Kjaroskur earned her the Francis Ebejer literary prize last year.
The role of Shirley, Helen’s sister-in-law, is played by Coryse Borg. Borg manages to make us hate her, dislike her, pity her and even admire her “”fuck you all” attitude in quick succession. The interplay between brothers Greg and Alex (played by Peter Galea and Stefan Farrugia respectively) is full of pathos, with both actors hinting at past hurts and present mistrust while keeping the audience unsure with whom to side until the climax. Even this is refreshingly real. There is no taking things out of proportion, neither by the script nor by the actors themselves. What we get, at the end of the day, is the gradual unraveling of the fabric of human relationships while sparing the audience from the artificial burden of any great speeches and exaggerated gestures.
One word about the backstage crew: while appreciating the difficulty of working in an intimate space like that of St James Cavalier, maybe a touch more discretion would be appreciated by the audience. When you have a cast that has managed to immerse the audience into what’s happening on stage so effectively, it’s a shame to ruin the effect with a badly timed crossing of the “platea”. But this is but a very minor gripe.
Back to the production itself: The whole thing wouldn’t have worked without extremely tight direction from Chris Gatt. The way the play is scripted and staged relies heavily on very precise interaction between cast, set, video projection and props. A lesser director would have easily botched the timings, resulting in awkward pockets of time. But Gatt is no lesser director and it all goes off without a hitch.
The set is also cleverly constructed, using a system of mechanised shutters (the Maltese hasila) to denote a change of location and using video projections to distinguish between present and past. To conclude: don’t miss this one. Kjaroskur masterfully pinpoints the weaknesses and the vulnerabilities that all relationships – whether brotherly or sexual – must necessarily bring with them, taking the audience on a totally credible roller coaster of contrasting emotions.
The production runs this whole weekend and the next at St James Cavalier. For tickets and info click here. You can also read an interview with writer and performer Simone Spiteri in today’s edition of the Times TV Guide. The production is supported by the Malta Arts Fund.