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Raising men to the divine

Laura Pitt-Pulford in a scene from When You Hear My Voice. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Laura Pitt-Pulford in a scene from When You Hear My Voice. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Theatre
When You Hear My Voice
St James Cavalier

When error is considered human and forgiveness divine, the comfort one can draw from the divinity of an art form is truly inspiring.

... the perfect example of what the discipline of theatre involves and what it gives back to all those concerned- André Delicata

What happened at St James Cavalier last week was a true collaboration of several artistic minds – from the London Shakespeare Workout to TAC Theatre and YOURS (Young Offenders Unit Rehabilitation Services). Their production of an original piece entitled When You Hear My Voice was a humbling experience for all those watching.

The same can be said for the professional Maltese actors who had the privilege of working with a highly talented group of young offenders currently serving prison sentences at Kordin. The project gave these young men, all but one of whom were foreign, the possibility to slip away from the shackles of anony­mity – a fate much worse than the physical shackles of imprisonment.

Public perception of a “felon” is a cynical one at best – we have a nasty habit of consigning them to the collective bin of “unknowns” who have strayed from the righteous path of order and civil obedience and are getting their just deserts, while completely ignoring the fact that they were once ordinary people living ordinary lives when something a little out of the ordinary happened to derail them. It takes a brave man to bare his soul before an audience and these young men certainly have got what it takes.

In a perfect example of the true redemptive power of language and literature, a multi-levelled story began to unfold on stage. Unconventionally structured, the piece picked works by authors as diverse as Edna St Vincent Millay, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn and Shakespeare and combined them with the original music of four excellent composers – Christopher Hamilton, David Hewson, Gareth Peter Dicks and Grant Studart.

In an experience never to be forgotten, director Bruce Wall managed to transmit his passion and enthusiasm to a group of 10 jaded, disillusioned young men in their early 20s to the point where they transformed into these terrifically strong, positive characters who never thought that “boring old Shakespeare” and a host of other “stuffy” poetry could be so liberating.

I was mesmerised by how much of an ensemble piece this was – exploring the true meaning of company interaction and dynamics while equally elevating and showcasing individual talent. To say that it was a professional piece of the highest degree is a mere truism, for the performance was so much more than that.

It was the perfect example of what the discipline of theatre involves and what it gives back to all those concerned – from the production team to the audience and most of all, in this case, to the actors themselves.

I have a confession to make as a teacher: three of the Maltese actors who joined the cast of inmates in prison at Kordin for intense daily rehearsals, were until quite recently students of mine.

I taught them literature and prepared them for exams but the syllabus of life is so very different from the rigid structures imposed by an academic curriculum.

In no way, shape or form could they have learnt and grown as much as I am certain they have through this experience, in any amount of lessons I could have given them. I’m pretty sure they feel the same way. This was an event that has made a difference to many lives – not less so the audience members it has touch­ed. On the last night there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

It was the first time I entered a theatre where thespians were mingling with a strong presence of plain clothes policemen and prison wardens and while I appreciate the need for precaution, you could see it in the eyes of every one of the performers that they had no intention of absconding. This was where they wanted to be, supporting their friends and doing what they had begun to believe in.

With the participation of Laura Pitt-Pulford, whose mature and restrained performances in the separate excerpts served to anchor and highlight the other cast members’ work, When You Hear My Voice became a vehicle by which the energy these young men have was channelled into a productive force.

And what a force it was. Each one sustained the other in an act of solidarity which was both moving and fulfilling.

Luke Farrugia’s excellent rendition of Christopher Hamilton’s Helen of Troy and Marching Matilda was paralleled by equally strong vocal performances by Joseph Zammit, while André Agius and Alex Gatesy Lewis also held their own admirably.

I was pleased to hear a personal favourite from Shakespeare’s Henry V extolled with great feeling by Mr Farrugia, but the two speeches which stole the show were those given by a Latino New Yorker who gave an original speech written by fellow inmate – a clever British man, and devised by one of the producers, Marc Cabourdin as well a touching speech from King John (also by Shakespeare) and a young Estonian whose Lear excerpt was incredibly moving. I trust that the strong cry for freedom in the choice of the entire programme was not only cathartic for a group of young men who changed from reluctant participants to receptive team players but that their voices were heard and acknowledged by the people they touched.

Dr Wall’s remarkable ability to tap into the depths of what makes up our humanity and releasing the raw potential that everybody has inside him is a mark of a truly inspiring director. These young men have experienced what Ludwig van Beethoven meant when he said: “Don’t only practise your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”

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