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Don’t go outside

Bryan Jennings, Whitney Ellis, Ashley Allen and Jeffrey Kieviet. Photo: Will Blakely

Bryan Jennings, Whitney Ellis, Ashley Allen and Jeffrey Kieviet. Photo: Will Blakely

Is Adrian Buckle’s latest play really so controversial that only an American cast could tackle it? Jo Caruana speaks to director Dave Barton to find out.

Anyone who has been following Adrian Buckle’s career since he first launched Unifaun Theatre Productions over 10 years ago will know he does not shy away from controversy. On the contrary, his plays have included everything, from full-frontal nudity to dead babies, and they have often sparked interest and intrigue from his audiences.

Now, Adrian is back with the release of his own play – Collapse – a script he penned over the last few years. This time round, he was concerned that the subject matter was so controversial that he wouldn’t be able to find a local cast willing to take it on – which is exactly why his all-American cast (and American director Dave Barton) will be on their way over to perform it later this month.

Dave is no stranger to Adrian’s work. His history with Unifaun began when Adrian reached out to him about Keith Bennett, an actor who worked with him for many years at his theatre company, Rude Guerrilla. He was looking to cast a role in Some Explicit Polaroids that Keith had already played twice for Rude Guerrilla to great reviews.

“Keith’s work inspired Adrian to ask me to direct the Maltese premiere of Blasted, a play that I had directed the premiere of in California. The storm that production caused bound us together and we’ve been working ever since. This will be my fourth time to the country, and my third time with Unifaun,” he says.

The director found himself drawn to Collapse when the script was turned down by another director on its first draft. “I understood why the other director had said no, and shared some of those same reservations with Adrian. There were thematic elements that I felt I’d seen before. I told him I was interested, but only if he’d be willing to do a re-write. He opened himself up to my brutal critiques – all said in a desire to make the script the best it could be, but still tough – and ended up doing several rewrites over the course of a couple of years.”

Dave is generally hesitant to do original work as there are a lot of dramaturgical pitfalls and he finds the process of re-writing is “painful and, frankly, boring”.

“In the past, I have often seen potential that then ended up not being there when the play went into rehearsal. That’s definitely not the case here,” he says.

Over the course of its development, the play’s focus has changed from a male to a female viewpoint, and both of the women’s roles have been expanded and complicated.

In the past, I have often seen potential that then ended up not being there when the play went into rehearsal. That’s definitely not the case here

“This, and the beautiful performances from my cast, lends the script a rich, emotional landscape, with the characters feeling like flesh and blood people, not theatrical puppets. Adrian has included fairy tale elements to the dystopia – something that was not present in the first draft, with the actors playing multiple roles over the course of the play.”

Dave believes it’s safe to say that Adrian’s piece won’t be an easy play or a light evening. He stresses that it’s dense enough that it demands the audience’s attention to get all of its details, and actually recommends seeing it twice because it will provide two completely different experiences.

He describes it as a very black comedy with laugh-out-loud moments that prove Adrian’s talent for comedy. “I admire the worlds he’s created; I love the characters, and appreciate the fantasy elements. Working on it in the US, its political, feminist take on relationships feels right at home with the recent Women’s March and #MeToo movement. I can’t say much more than that, because too many plot details would spoil the surprises,” he continues.

When asked just how controversial the play’s material is – and why the play didn’t engage a Maltese cast – Dave says that he’s worked with difficult material for so long that he’s no longer able to figure out what’s controversial and what isn’t.

“I’m always in favour of working with Maltese actors when in the country, so I was surprised that Maltese actors said no. In my discussions about the issue of the script’s sex and nudity with some actresses a couple of years ago, they told me directly that they liked the script but felt that it was too intimate, even embarrassing.

I know that Adrian also approached quite a few Maltese actors about doing the show and was turned down for the same reasons. The funny thing is that the script has become less blunt than when it was first written. That doesn’t mean it’s less graphic – these things always need to be contextualised – but new scripts always undergo changes.”

Now, both Barton and Buckle are looking forward to presenting Collapse and hope that, above all, it will be both entertaining and provide food for thought.

“I hate theatre that handholds or panders, or insults its audience’s intelligence. I’m looking forward to sitting in the theatre with an audience and hearing the laughter, the shrieks of horror, the stunned silences and tears. This production offers all of these things. It offers something unlike anything they’ve ever seen before,” Dave concludes.

This project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund Project Strand.

Collapse will be held at the Spazju Kreattiv Main Theatre on February 17, 18, 23, 24, 25 and March 2, 3 and 4. Tickets are available online.

www.kreattivita.org

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