I approached L-Arrest ta’ Danny Weed, playwright Alfred Buttigieg’s latest work, with some trepidation. I’m a fan of Buttigieg’s work, thoroughly enjoying his previous work L-Interrogazzjoni. What I’m not a fan of is the classic Maltese farce. I just don’t get the humour and, while everyone around me is in fits, I’m usually the one looking like a sour lemon.
But I had a job to do, so I took my seat and eyed James Ryder – who plays the title role of Danny Weed and is there on set doing his thing while the audience walks in – with completely unjustified suspicion. For those of you who need a quick catch-up on current affairs, Buttigieg’s script is inspired by the story of Daniel Holmes, the Welshman who, in a wildly controversial sentence, was jailed for 10 years for growing weed in his apartment.
And here was another dilemma for me. What happened to Holmes was anything but funny, so I wasn’t quite sure how Buttigieg was going to turn this one around. But turn it round he does, and I knew I had a good thing on my hands as soon as the play opened to the sound of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra, Ryder springing into hilariously choreographed action while going about his day in his apartment.
Getting an entire theatre to literally LOL in the first two minutes of a play without saying a word is no mean feat. Ryder, ably directed by Michael Fenech, pulls it off. Clearly this actor has a lot more depth than his TikTok videos let on.
Some words about the premise of the play. The hapless Danny Weed is minding his own business when he gets raided by the police, after a neighbour reports him for growing weed. The next hour and a half follows what happens next, which isn’t much but which, thanks to Buttigieg’s witty script, keeps the LOLs going strong throughout.
The play makes use of a number of tropes – the PC with too much air between his ears, the shifty police inspector, the holier-than-thou officer who believes smoking a joint will land you in rehab… In the wrong hands, too many tropes are a bad thing. Buttigieg throws them all into his script and comes out a master.
Script, direction and actors combined perfectly to make this an excellent comedic piece. The comedy of Buttigieg’s script is on point, with one-liners, banter and profanity that capture Maltese parochialisms so entertainingly.
The physicality of the actors is also crucial to the success of this production. Fenech’s decision in this regard is inspired. Chris Spiteri, as the Sargeant, manages to turn the simple act of carrying four large plants into unending hilarity. Matthew Sant Sultana’s PC Byron – part machismo, part naïveté, 100% stupidity – deserves a special shoutout.
There were a few bungled lines, and Ryder’s Scottish accent could use some work. But the physical aspect of the comedy was pretty near perfect. I do not want to delve too deeply into the gags, because it will ruin the experience of anyone who’s yet to watch it. Though I will say that there’s a Kappillan who brings the house down just by walking in.
The play is hilarious, there’s no two ways about it. But the real masterfulness lies in the way Buttigieg manages to create a subtle, serious undertone even as all the funnies are unfolding. Towards the end of the play Ryder shares a scene with the Inspector who ordered his arrest (Audrey Scerri) – there was not one chuckle to be heard in an audience that was guffawing mere seconds before.
The sinister implications of what is unfolding hit home, especially because Buttigieg cleverly intertwines lines that we all know from real-life politics within the script. Remember ‘Tistgħu tgħiduli x’qed jiġri hawn‘, anyone?
And this is why L-Arrest ta’ Danny Weed works, despite being a farce that is based on a very tragic tale. It makes us laugh. But it also sends a very strong message about hypocrisy, corruption and the dangers of giving power to small people.
In a particular scene, Danny yells out that he’s going to report the four officers who are literally smoking weed and waiting for a pizza delivery in his home. The officers’ reaction genuinely chilled me to the bone, and I don’t think I was the only one to have this reaction.
In short, go watch this. It may be funny AF, but if you look beyond the smokescreen (sorry) it holds a very unflattering mirror to Maltese society. You will laugh and you will have a great time. You will also leave the theatre with your brain racing and wondering.
L-Arrest ta’ Danny Weed runs at MSpace at Blue Box, in Msida, today (March 5) and all through next weekend. For more features about Malta culture, read this review of Masquerade’s Misery, The Shrinking Violets’ In Other Words, or Bil-Bieb Mitbuq.