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At the shattered edges of the divide

The Shrinking Violets take to examine a human tragedy from a child’s perspective

Maria Buckle and Jacob Piccinino share experiences of terrorism and tragedy through the eyes of a child in Us/Them. Photo: Lisa Attard

Maria Buckle and Jacob Piccinino share experiences of terrorism and tragedy through the eyes of a child in Us/Them. Photo: Lisa Attard

Theatre
Us/Them
The Splendid

The world as seen through the eyes of a child is a wondrous, hopeful place. Their view is coloured by their immediate surroundings, their family life, their childish rivalries and their intense friendships.

Even in the darkest of times, the way children look at the events that shape their life, gives us a very different perspective from the way in which adults would look at them. This is the concept behind Carly Wijs’ excellent script, Us/Them which deals with the 2004 Beslan School Massacre.

Produced by The Shrinking Violets and directed by Chiara Hyzler, Us/Them features Maria Buckle and Jacob Piccinino as two anonymous children who tell the entire story of the hostage situation from the moment the school day starts – with welcome speeches and doting parents looking on, a school choir greeting the children at the start of the school year and the sudden terrorist attack that resonated around the world and cost the lives of over 340 people, many of them children.

Choosing The Splendid as the venue for this performance was a very wise move as it naturally lent itself to the setting of destruction and claustrophobia which the victims felt when the Chechen terrorists took over School Number One. The strengths of this production lay not only in the excellent interpretation of the two actors, but also on their dynamic, and on the staging, which in itself is a crucial element in driving this very physical form of theatre forward.

Shocking act which was ultimately unsuccessful in its final intention, was stirred up from beneath other obscuring memories

Marco Mallia’s set construction was presumably based on very specific stage notes because the flooring was black chalkboard, on which the two children drew the entire map of the school and explained the way in which they were locked inside the gym, all the while colouring their story with titbits about their family life, their parents, their friends, and their perception of the Chechens across the boarder – hence the Us/Them divide, already showing that primary school children can be prejudiced by what the adults in their lives tell them.

The majority of their opinions however, are formed while in captivity and reflect their fears as their understanding of their captors grows.

With highly effective lighting by Late Interactive, and a strategically organised backdrop which was simple yet effective, the performance drew the audience in and allowed the actors to showcase their incredibly strong, high-energy interactions, which were characterised by meticulously blocked and choreographed movements, thanks to Hyzler’s attention to detail.

Buckle and Piccinino both gave terrific performances – their portrayals so genuine and heartfelt that the tragedy of Beslan was brought to the fore again.

This shocking act which was ultimately unsuccessful in its final intention, was stirred up from beneath other obscuring memories and emerged just as disturbing as it originally was, when the entire world watched with bated breath as a handful of men with guns terrorised innocent schoolchildren to satisfy their political demands.

The senselessness of this act and the helplessness of the victims, who quickly lost their innocence for a forced taste of a cruel adult world, cut deep into the audience’s emotional response.

The Shrinking Violets have outdone themselves once again with not just a great choice of play, but also perfect casting, which makes this first play of the new season a definite must-see.

Us/Them is being staged at The Splendid, Valletta tomorrow and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 7 and 9pm, and on Sunday at 8pm. A special Q&A with the actors and director will take place after Saturday’s show. Tickets may be obtained at www.showshappening.com.

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