Il-Mitt Fehma tal-Kavallier John Giordimaina O.S.C.I.
Sir Temi Zammit Hall, University

From the wickedly funny mind of much-loved author Trevor Zahra, yet another play has found its way to the Maltese stage in the guise of Il-Mitt Fehma tal-Kavallier John Giordimaina O.S.C.I.

Based on his 2013 book, Bizzilla, which is precisely a fictional insight into the character and beliefs of the self-same knight John Giordimaina, this new play kept some of the old characters encountered in the original book and introduced some new ones to help move the piece along.

Just like the novel, the play develops in individual vignettes, each highlighting an aspect of the titular character’s ideas or quirks. Unifaun Theatre’s production does the book and, subsequently, the author’s intention, justice.

Zahra’s vision was brought to life by director Josette Ciappara, with a cameo appearance by the author playing himself, as he too has to deal with the difficult but often funny character he has created. Zahra’s stage presence makes him a very likable man, while Romualdo Moretti’s multipurpose set design adapts itself to the various situations Giordimaina gets himself into.

Giordimaina has many ideas about the world and how things should be done. In fact, Zahra’s main idea behind Giordimaina is to use him as a vehicle to criticise and poke fun at the conservative and incredibly funny idiosyncrasies which so many Maltese people have.

Mikhail Basmadjian is brilliant in his canny interpretation of  Giordimaina – a self-appointed know-it-all who is well-respected by his community and likes to have his finger in several pies, masked by false modesty.

He is supported by his friend Notary Harry Demajo played by Anthony Ellul, who manages to create an annoyingly sychophantic man too ready to agree with the chevalier. Simon Curmi plays Lorry Theuma, a childhood friend of Giordimaina’s, who does not let him talk his way into winning every argument because his healthy scepticism and cynicism keeps him sane.

Mikhail Basmadjian is brilliant in his canny interpretation of Chev. John Giordimaina – a self-appointed know-it-all who is well-respected by his community and likes to have his finger in several pies, masked by false modesty

In a good show of character doubling, André Mangion is his brother-in-law Tony, married to his sister Lina (Mary Rose Mallia). He also plays the ever-patient Dun Salv, who is regularly criticised by Giordimaina, as well as Mario, his relaxed and affable friend. Mangion has proved to be a versatile actor and has matured in his interpretation.

Christine Francalanza plays Lina’s friend, an admirer of Giordimaina’s because of his apparent intelligence and erudition, while Graziella Galea doubles as the feisty waitress serving the men at Café Premier and Elaine, his niece.

From censorship and the way people dress to the Eurovision Song Contest, vegetarianism, matters of religion and charitable works as well as daily advice which the chevalier likes to dispense so freely, we begin to realise that there are, sadly, many people like this man. Self-important, pseudo-intellectual and patronising people who fill other people’s lives with verbal op-eds and unsolicited advice, who thrive on the admiration of those they talk down to and enjoy being the centre of attention, are unfortunately woven into the fabric of Maltese society and are very easy to recognise.

Basmadjian arguing with Trevor Zahra about the new rules of the Maltese language.Basmadjian arguing with Trevor Zahra about the new rules of the Maltese language.

Everyone is an expert and everyone talks with a sense of authority – to the point of appearing ridiculous. This is where the comedy comes in. Zahra’s script and Ciappara’s sensitivity to these character types were complemented by an excellent cast – with Basmadjian in the lead role and Curmi’s Lorry being the two funniest and most instantly recognisable character types, while the ladies, Mallia and Francalanza, were every Maltese housewife from your nanna to your nosey neighbour.

Galea gives as good as she gets as the waitress who has had enough of Giordimaina’s attitude and is to be applauded for her stance. Basmadjian and Curmi make a great comic duo, bringing to life Zahra’s characters in an inimitable manner. Sometimes it is better to laugh at a situation that cannot really be changed: an old man set in his ways who likes to tell everybody how to run the world. Giordimaina is the latest in a host of characters which Zahra has created so masterfully – still intending to teach while putting a smile on our faces. Unifaun has done a very good job in putting up this production: certainly a good one to see.

■ Il-Mitt Fehma tal-Kavallier John Giordimaina O.S.C.I. is being staged at Sir Temi Zammit Hall, University of Malta, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm.

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