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The raw underbelly of Maltese creativity

Peter Farrugia reviews Creative Island’s Apocalesque, a collection of powerful, satirical sketches.

Part of the cast of Apocalesque. Photo: Jacob Sammut

Part of the cast of Apocalesque. Photo: Jacob Sammut

After an absence of four years, director Nicole Cuschieri returned with her troupe of madcap performers for the 11th contribution to Creative Island’s burlesque legacy, entitled Apocalesque.

Hosted at City Lights in Valletta, formerly a notorious porno cinema in the heart of the city, Apocalesque presented a twisted vision of Malta’s future.

Development is running rampant, political parties are working their propaganda machines into overdrive, and the inhabitants of our islands have been transformed into a bunch of all-singing, all-dancing zombies.

The show’s principal script­writers included Teodor Reljic and the What’s Their Names Theatre Group, and featured pieces by Veronica Stivala, Marie Claire Camilleri, Becky d’Ugo and Miriam Calleja.

Joseph Zammit opened the show as the mayor of a post-apocalyptic Maltese village, inhabited by the undead and the wish-they-were-dead inhabitants of the island. As usual, Zammit showcased his skill as a comic, setting the scene for what would be an exceptional evening.

Apocalesque’s biggest strength had to be its black humour and racy presentation, combining sensual dance sequences (courtesy of burlesque beauties Undine la Verve, Lilithia Rose, and Eccentrika) with a biting critique of contemporary Maltese culture.

Marie Claire Camilleri’s sketch, entitled No Address, was a powerful commentary about the confusion and chaos that predominate in modern-day Malta. Working with the debris of our culture, past and present, Camilleri gave the audience a glimpse into her own process, and how best to keep (somewhat) sane in a world that is increasingly unstable.

The sketch A Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Dating, written by What’s Their Names and performed by James Ryder with Svetlana Pandolfino, was a subversive combination of sight gags and hilarious social commentary. Bodies blindly bumped together, in an absence of connection, while the tired tropes of a 1950s dating manual blared in the darkness.

Apocalesque’s biggest strength had to be its black humour and racy presentation

Another noteworthy performance was an especially dark song, which explored the theme of domestic violence in the Maltese islands. Performed as an operatic duet between Joseph Zammit and Coryse Borg, and written by the talented Alex Vella Gregory, this was the disturbing heart of the show.

Not only did it make visible the macho culture, which continues to dominate Maltese society, but it also jolted Apocalesque out of its more comfortable place as a series of horror-comedy sketches, to address an ongoing challenge for too many families and communities.

Folly to be Wise, performed by James Ryder, was an elegant piece of satire, calling into question the rose-tinted vision of Malta that dominates in some circles. The world is collapsing, but everyone is encouraged to sing, dance, and be merry.

Ignore the immanent des­truction of our environment and our institutions, the powers-that-be seem to say, because life is fun and carefree; that is, until a zombie tries to rip your arms off.

However, the ultimate highlight had to be Kevin Canter’s performance as Il-Baruni Duwi Balli. Canter entered the stage after a Satanic ritual, performed by Teodor Reljic, which was intended to exorcise Valletta of gentrification and pseudo-cultural posturing.

The dance was a powerful exploration of gender, sexuality and identity. It raised the tone of the show from the purely comedic or archly satirical into a space of authentic performance. This is a testament to the energy that Canter brought to his sensuous, undulating movements and steady, uncompromising gaze, inviting a spellbound audience to take the risk, and engage with him.

As a former collaborator and avid fan of Creative Island’s burlesque contributions, my impression of this edition is that it stands out, among the strongest collection of sketches and performances.

Nicole Cuschieri has raised the bar, and this reviewer hopes that future instalments will continue to promote this kind of sly, wry look at the direction being taken by the authorities of Malta’s ‘cultural sector’.

Valletta 2018 may not have given its official stamp of approval to the Apocalesque, but for anybody looking to experience the raw underbelly of Maltese creativity, comedy and gore, this was the cultural contribution they are looking for.

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