Modern classic charting evolution of gay rights | Michael Mangion

Under the MADC banner, Michael Mangion will be directing a production of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride. He speaks to us about taking on this ‘modern classic’ which explores our changing attitudes to sexuality from the 1950s onwards 

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Teodor Reljic
22 April 2015, 8:30am
Left to right: Philip Leone-Ganado, Julia Calvert and Malcolm Galea in The Pride
Left to right: Philip Leone-Ganado, Julia Calvert and Malcolm Galea in The Pride
What made you decide that now would be the right time to stage this play on the local stage? 

It’s actually taken me (and the MADC) over a year to get this play to the stage due to the availability of rights, venue and the right cast but at last, it’s here.

It is of particular relevance to the local scene now because Malta has just gone through the largest legal overhaul in terms of granting equal rights, marriage and adoption for gay people in over sixty years. This invariably affects society’s outlook and behaviour towards anyone who had been marginalised and discriminated before.

What would you say makes the play a universal, enduring experience? 

The Pride spans over sixty years (to date) as it examines changing attitudes to sexuality. I think that this, and the fact that it is so beautifully written, will eventually propel this play into the timeless classic genre.

It has already been described as a ‘modern classic’ and ‘era-spanning masterpiece’ and since its premiere in 2008 at the Royal Court in London has been performed in over 20 countries. It is both a historical and contemporary drama and makes an equal comment on the two eras it tackles (the 1950s and present day). This relevancy, I believe, will make The Pride a universal enduring experience.

How would you describe this play when compared to others you’ve directed? 

To be fair this is only the third play I’m directing so I don’t have too much to compare it to. The first play I did was one I had written so I obviously had an extremely clear idea of what the playwright wanted to achieve. I also had the luxury of being able to better the text when necessary. 

The second play was the wonderfully written one-woman play by Willy Russell ‘Shirley Valentine’ which starred Isabel Warrington. With a great script and such a talented actor who grasped the role fully my primary role as director was really one of ensuring that the action and pace were sustained.

The Pride is set in two very different periods, it has four actors playing a total of seven characters and is set in the round, so as director, the job of whom is to be the eyes and ears of the audience, is that I have to have a 360-degree view of the action. 

What have been some of the greatest challenges in directing The Pride? 

The greatest challenge has undoubtedly been in ensuring clarity between the 1950s and present-day as the scenes alternate between the two consistently. I’ve made my job slightly harder (although I think artistically it’s the right decision) in not having a visual reference that a set provides but I hope the costumes will act as an obvious indicator as will the acting.

How did you go about choosing the cast, and how would you describe the dynamic between them? 

Part of the delay in putting up The Pride was because I had very definite actors in mind for the roles and so we waited till they were available.  

As I’m fairly new to directing and this play is complex I needed a talented and experienced cast which I fortunately got in Malcolm Galea, Philip Leone Ganado, Julia Calvert and Ben Milton – who is making his Malta debut. As a result this has been very much a collaborative effort and there’s probably been as much time discussing characters and relationships as there has been trying out new ideas. This is a very intense and demanding piece for the actors and they have more than risen to the challenge.

What’s next for you?

I have no definite directing work lined up but I do have a number of ideas up my sleeve. It’s a case of selling them to the right producer. Otherwise I’m acting in the forthcoming MADC production of Romeo and Juliet in summer, Masquerade’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in October followed by MADC’s panto Treasure Island. So that’s the rest of year booked up.

The Pride will be staged at St James Cavalier, Valletta at 20:00 on April 24-26, May 1-3 and 8-10. More information: www.sjcav.org

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Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...