‘I won’t say I’m sorry’

Teodor Reljic speaks to theatre producer writer Adrian Buckle of Unifaun Theater about the staging of the second play he’s penned after last year’s Unintended, and why the new york, Collapse, will be directed by and feature only American practitioners

The all-American cast of Adrian Buckle's second play, Collapse
The all-American cast of Adrian Buckle's second play, Collapse

This is your second original script. What were some of the lessons you learned from writing and staging Unintended that you hope to bring on board to this production?

 

With Unintended, I rushed the process and staged something that obviously needed more work. I was lucky to have Stephen Oliver directing a fantastic cast with that one but, having watched it over and over again, I admit that I should have waited a little longer before staging it and workshopped some of the scenes, especially in the second and third Acts. I won’t say I am sorry I staged the play. I think it was a very important learning curve for me. I just wish I had workshopped it with the director and the actors a little further before staging it. The situation with Collapse is different. I started working on Collapse in 2010, right after the Stitching episode. I was mentally blocked at the time and battling depression. I just could not create. Then I got transferred to this school for low-achieving boys and I started working with them through Drama. I reached out to them by working on The Lord Of The Flies and they started creating some exceptional work. And just like that, I got my muse back. But I was still angry and frustrated at the time and what I wrote was a furious diatribe full of shock elements. So much so, that even I realised that what I wrote was not stageable. So I dropped it. Then, in 2013, I hosted international playwright Edward Bond when I staged his play Olly’s Prison. I spent hours talking to him about theatre and he rekindled the desire in me to revisit Collapse. I rewrote the piece and finally it reached the semblance of a play. I gave it to Dave Barton in 2015 and he said that although it needed work, he was willing to direct it. And what followed was the work I should have allowed myself to carry out on Unintended. I wrote and rewrote the play. Dave was very demanding as my mentor and had me cut out scenes that I thought were brilliant, but he felt were just gratuitous.

Then we workshopped it with the actors and did some more rewrites. I carried out more cuts and finally we have something that we feel is worthy to be staged. This is the biggest lesson I have learned from working on Unintended and Collapse: better wait. Better make sure you are 100% convinced with what you wrote. Better rely on the writing, than on the actors.

This play appears to be very much in line with your fascination with In-Yer-Face theatre, as well as dystopian narratives. What keeps you returning to these themes and genres?

I come from the In-Yer-Face school of theatre. I have read every play by Philip Ridley, Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane and Anthony Neilson. It is the theatre that touches me most as a human being. Also, it is the theatre that subscribes to my philosophy. I believe that we can only see the Light in the Dark. If Light is Hope and Justice, then the Dark is Suffering and Misery. In the same way, it has to be night for you to be able to see the stars, I think that unless you experience Suffering and Misery you cannot empathise.

You cannot understand what a refugee is really escaping from. You cannot comprehend what the gay community is experiencing in Chechnya. You cannot understand why a Muslim woman might prefer not to be saved and still wear a burqa. As Anthony Neilson once said, “In-Yer-Face Theatre is actually Experiential Theatre.” It is more powerful. The audience experiences what the character is going through first-hand.

It is not the glamorising of sex or violence that we get in certain musicals. It is experience and empathy with the Dark. Because it is so powerful, certain people are scared of it. Want proof? Look up the Stitching case. Collapse tells the story of a young couple who live away their lives in a cocoon of safety in spite of obvious calamity outside their door. This bubble of comfort is burst when a friend of the girl enters uninvited. It is a play about delusion, inspired by Grimm fairytales at their darkest.

Collapse sees the return of director Dave Barton to Unifaun. What kind of creative dynamic do you have with him, and why did you think he would be a good fit to take on your script?

Dave and I joke that we are brothers from another life. We joke we are each other’s doppleganger. When I founded Unifaun, I used to follow his work with Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company in California. I got in touch with him online and we immediately hit it off. He helped me introduce my brand of theatre to Malta. He is now my International Advisor and is listed as a member of Unifaun. I trust his vision. And I like working with him. That is what makes our collaborations work.

The play also features an all-foreign cast. What was the reason you opted for this? Do you think the pool of local actors is not always sufficient?

The all foreign cast has nothing to do with local actors. We opted for a foreign cast because it made things easier for Dave to direct the play. Rather than bring him to Malta for two months and spend the holidays here working, it made more sense to have a foreign cast of his choice working in the US and then bringing the show here. It did help in the sense that I suspect that most local actors would have been uneasy with certain scenes. But the primary reason why we opted for a foreign cast was to make life easier for everyone involved.

With the new year having freshly kickstarted – the year of Valletta serving as European Capital of Culture, no less – what prospects have you got for Unifaun in 2018?

2018 is another busy year for us. Right after Collapse Unifaun debuts At the Blue Box in Msida with Brad Birch’s version of An Enemy of the People. It is a play about a whistleblower being silenced by authorities for wanting to expose a scandal in the newspapers. Recent events have posed a threat to freedom of expression and press. Unifaun stands for freedom of expression and thus, this production. In June we will be working with Teatru Malta on a new play by Brad Birch. Brad is a young Welsh playwright of high acclaim. Some have described him as “the future of British Theatre”. He will be writing us a play about Maltese Football and its social context. ‘Game’ will be staged at Ta’ Qali Stadium during the World Cup. And finally, in October we will be staging another new play, this time by local playwright Clare Azzopardi, directed by Marcelle Teuma. The play is called Tebut Isfar and sees a developer doing his dirtiest utmost to buy a building in Valletta so as to convert it into a Boutique Hotel.

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