Caught up as he is, more often than not, in unravelling the creative process over which he rarely has more than a tenuous control, even when the playwright seems to be following a fairly strong vein in his journey of discovery of what he is trying to say, there is always the ever present fear that he will at any given moment come face to face with a dead end,
This I find often makes for an unwillingness to stop and try to analyse what is actually being committed to pen and ink, a reluctance to try to stem by hardly any degree what appears to be making sense – a coherence of divine inspiration that defies the very idea that one should second guess or challenge oneself. This, of course, sometimes makes for a certain degree of self-recrimination when, the journey ended, or the curtain finally drawn. And one is left to retrace one’s steps, or step back and re-assess the results.
Rewrites are by and large the more arduous, the more painful and the more
time consuming labour that any writer has to face. It is true that there
are times when a play just defies any attempt at tampering with. There are
those plays which commit themselves to paper in a matter of days (sometimes
a matter of hours) ( Satira – a case in point) but then there are the
rest... The sober weeks, sometimes years, before one is willing to let
This long self revelation needs to be made if one is to better understand what the playwright’s position is vis a vis any and all to whom the script is finally passed on, in order to bring it to life. Once the author is eventually disposed off (with the good old pat in the back. hopefully), everyone settles down to the task of having to do what the author apparently has failed so miserably to do – that is reduce to physical, human terms, the intellectual maze from fairyland called a script dumped into the hands of the director, producer and cast.
What follows can either be an author’s worst nightmare or the glorious feeling of knowing that one has been twice-blessed – in the first instance, with a production which confirms to the playwright (once again!) that he is either a genius among fools, or a fool amidst a saner humanity, or else, the rare confirmation that one is not alone and that theatre is the only true reality.
Having said all this, how does one react to having a play like En Passant – (conceived entirely as a character play for radio with a limited cast of two) being torn apart and re-assembled as an aggressive high impact alternative theatre representation with a crew of some twenty performers at the director's disposition?
After seeing the final presentation of the result of this work at St James Cavalier last month, I found paradoxically enough I did not feel the slightest bit “betrayed”, or the least bit lessened as a playwright, by the liberties taken with the script. I had originally been asked by Mario Azzopardi to keep in mind the fact that he had to make as full use as possible of his troupe of actors, and also, that the ‘verbose” nature of the script needed tightening... A euphemism if ever there was one. Reducing an hour long a two-actor script for radio to some twenty minutes for stage is perhaps the most ruthless pruning that a writer can be asked to do. In this particular case, it proved to be a useful exercise – when all was said (or not said, but done), the rudimentary skeleton that was left was still I believe strong enough to carry the concept behind the play.
The play is based on the central metaphoric theme of two pawns caught in the grips of ruthless powers dictating their every move, The action is divided into seven parts - (seven moves, or seven stations of the cross: described as play in seven parts, a death and resurrection). To my mind En Passant always was wishfully associated to a composition for radio with a Brecthian skeleton and an (absurdist) Becketian soul. The change in medium naturally was the major challenge – the intimacy of the radio play, its ability to convey ideas and thoughts in a uniquely private manner to a listener’s head purely through the effect of the spoken words and additional sounds, must force the director to create the physical element and incorporate the physical element both of the participating actors and the space they occupy in real time, as opposed to the purely aural world of radio drama.
I believe Mario Azzopardi solved this by relying mostly on the Brechtian
exposition, leaving the “metaphysical” element, such as they might have
been, to the audience’s unconscious, or subconscious susceptibilities
and sensitivity. Not that the audience was allowed much time to get lost
in thought. The fast paced action, the constant clamour for attention by
the actors made sure of that. Mario Azzopardi introduced action
(song and dance suddenly appeared from nowhere) and sometimes even
speech elements, which however were strictly called for by script. For
example, where the sound effects directions in the play called for a
reaction by the crowd, or the playing of contemporary news item over the
p.a. system, Azzopardi took full advantage to “intrude” into the work,
but basically applying a texture, a forceful and highly delineated one
at that, but still close enough to the author’s intentions. Whereas the
protestations and lamentations of the two pawns held captive to the
whims and dark schemes of the powers that be that dictated their every
move in the original play were of a generic nature, Azzopardi brought
them down to the here and now, the protestations of a factory worker who
is told when to use a toilet and when he cannot, the jeers of a crowd
who protest the opponents mental capacity and right to choose to vote in
a referendum for Europe. Of course, here we have to tread carefully –
what if the director manages to imply a vote against the European Union,
while the playwright contemplates the exact opposite? Speaking from any
artist’s point of view, be he the writer, director or actor, I believe
that the original intent of the play should never be diverted.
Fortunately enough, though we did diverge in form sometimes, the actual
provocative approach adopted by the director and crew were in fact in
close sync with what the script called for.
To my mind, as long as there is an honest reading into the content of a play, a director cannot go wrong. As long, naturally, as the director and supporting cast do in fact believe in the script, which they start with. As it is, from the handing over of the script to the first night of the play, I did not participate in the work. Neither did I feel the need to do so. In a way, once I did pare down the script to practically a “canavaccio’, I felt somehow relieved of the responsibility for what was to follow. Somehow I felt the responsibility shifted squarely onto the producer’s and the actors’ shoulders. In this particular play I was not the least bit sorry to have done so. The end result far surpassed my expectations.
Still one has to wonder, what are the possibilities of going a step further and creating the space for a theatre were the final product is neither the faithful re-production of a play (a script by one particular author) nor the ensemble spectacle generated by a theatrical collective where theatre comes with a capital T? Speaking as a playwright I do admit that I have practically always been left with a sense of assisting to something that somehow is not quite cohesive winner. I do attend to this type of Theatre – at least locally. My prejudiced instinct tells me that this “anonymous” production by a collective is more often than not too loose, sometimes incomplete, – the focus of too many ideas from too many input sources appear to me to somehow never quite find a common target – a central unifying point of vision. This clamour for attention from too many sources can be deafening – distracting to say the least. Is this the inevitable result of the democratic impulse to try to let everybody have an equal input into the creative process? Is it because, having dispensed with an author, one must make sure that the finished work must not bear the imprint of any single creative source?
What Azzopardi put together in En Passant I believe was the result of a quite strong personal vision of the producer – although one must make allowances for the input from the performers themselves.
Considering the current crucial time of reassessment that the local theatrical scene is going through today, one has to wonder if the collaborative effort of writers and directors and performers can somehow be put to better use than it has been put to date. It is said that in America, the focus of native theatre identifies itself more closely with the playwright and his vision, whereas in England the work of a collective seems to predominate. Could a formula, a modus vivendi and modus operandi be found through which Maltese theatre could be better served than it has been served to date? Speaking from the playwrights point of view, although I am extremely jealous that once I have produced a script, it should not be tampered with lightly, yet one is equally aware that the hit or miss way of staging a new play in Maltese today is hardly conducive to a strategy that allows for a, either the playwright re-think and better adopt the script to the necessities of the theatre, nor for the directors to take the time to read too deeply into the sub-text.
The current pathetic short term of preparation before a theatrical production, plus the equally pathetic short run of a play, two or three nights max, leads me to believe that a) either whoever chooses to produce the play has to have the full conviction and ardent wish to stage it with an almost god-like belief in the creator of the script and interprets it faithfully (as is the case whenever a foreign play in a foreign language is staged, in deference to the foreign “master” playwright), or the author must resign himself to give up total control of the script and rely on the final better judgement of the producer, director and cast. Time being the limiting factor the concept of a work in progress, meaning a collaborative effort between scriptwriters and performers, is effectively non-existent locally. And yet I strongly believe that given the right conditions it could be an ideal way bringing new work to the Maltese stage.
This in no way has to be limited by the venue of such new work.
Whether it is staged at the MITP, the village hall or the Manoel should
be immaterial. The numerous local venues in the town and villages,
nowadays reduced to third class status deserve better. The national
theatre, the Manoel Theatre itself should be a prime target for this
type of new work - baroque architecture notwithstanding! Theatre history
proves this. Witness certain performances in decades past, when for a
limited time theatre was meaningful, rather than a show-off, pose and
display parade, a time when theatre was meant for the people and by the