Beautiful minds | Alan Paris

With theatre season now in full swing, MaltaToday meets renowned actor Alan Paris ahead of his role in one of the most anticipated productions this year – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
7 October 2015, 11:46am
Alan Paris: “The casting is fantastic, seriously. We’re all a bit mad in our own way” • Photo by Jacob Sammut
Alan Paris: “The casting is fantastic, seriously. We’re all a bit mad in our own way” • Photo by Jacob Sammut
There are very few local theatre lovers who won’t know the work of actor Alan Paris – arguably one of the island’s most celebrated performers.

He has been treading the boards since the age of 16. “That’s a whopping 25 years!” Alan quips. “I have to say, that freaks me out a little…”

Alan’s first lead role was given to him by Irene Christ and the late Julian Manduca, in a play called in Fat Men in Skirts. “It was a role that taught me a lot, largely because of its complexity, and since it was my first opportunity to work with a foreign team,” he explains.

Since, he’s played parts in everything from Shakespeare to musicals, and straight plays to comedies and panto. “I think I’m at my most comfortable in straight theatre,” he continues. “In fact, when I was offered this role in Cuckoo’s Nest, I don’t think I even let Tony [Bezzina, the show’s producer] finish the question. I jumped right at it.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a play based on the cult-classic novel of the same name, which also spawned an equally well-known film starring Jack Nicholson. It was adapted for the Broadway stage in 1963, and has since experienced two revivals, one off-Broadway in 1971 with Danny DeVito playing the role of Martini, and another in 2001, for which it won a Tony Award for Outstanding Revival. The play, like the novel, deals with mental health institutions and the way the human mind processes the experience.

Alan explains it’s beautifully written. “It’s mad one minute, touching and emotional the next, and then you’re suddenly laughing out loud,” he says. “The characters are very well crafted and tightly woven, and they shift and blend in different ways, according to what’s going on on stage. Distances are automatically created between people who are on opposing sides of an argument. It’s the great writing and Stephen Oliver’s intuitive direction that does that.”

Alan has taken on the role of Randal P McMurphy – a loud, manipulative, petty criminal with a heart.

“He doesn’t like being controlled, fights the institution and hates being told what to do,” Alan details. “He’s actually been transferred to the mental institution to try to get away from hard labour on a work farm. Once he gets there he can’t handle how the rest of the patients submit and believe what they’re told, and he tries to shake things up. He meets his match in Nurse Ratchet, beautifully played by Alex Camilleri Warne. She has a very strong hold on all the patients and McMurphy can’t handle it.”

Alan has enjoyed creating a character that is so different to his own. “A loud, manipulative, petty criminal is definitely not relatable to me, but I am enjoying the process of bringing him to life,” he grins. “His physicality is very different to mine, so I’m trying to work very hard on that. I do agree with his thinking of some elements though, such as standing up for yourself and doing what’s right for your own freedom and that of others.”

Asked about the rehearsal process, Alan smiles. “Well, I’ve spent the past six weeks locked up in a studio with a bunch of loonies. The casting is fantastic, seriously. We’re all a bit mad in our own way.

“We recently held the play’s photo shoot at a certain healthcare institution, and some of us showed up ready in costume, in scrubs. Actor Joe Depasquale, our gentle giant, was towering above us all with his long hair and beard. The security guard took one look at him and asked, straight away, if it was Cuckoo’s Nest that we were doing. It’s got quite an iconic style to it.

“Victor Debono, Dominic Said, Renato Dimech, Michael Mangion and Andre Agius play the lead patients. Watching one of their scenes is incredible. There they all are, nutty as fruitcakes, bringing it all together beautifully. I’ve started to really enjoy group therapy.”

Alan is also enjoying working with Stephen, the director. “He’s very patient and he works very fast. So in no time at all the whole thing is mapped out and we know where we’re going. I like the fact that he’s working very hard at making it look like an asylum, to keep away from it falling into comedy.”

Now, with just a couple of weeks to go until curtain up, the whole team is looking forward to this ‘rollercoaster ride’ of a production. “It is the sort of play that will be enjoyed by anyone,” Alan says. “The underlying theme is about not letting people dictate to you what you should and shouldn’t do – question the system, fight it, even if it’s at the cost of your own well being and that of others. Don’t let anyone control you. I’m sure anybody can relate to that on some level.

 “All in all it’s funny, sad, emotional, mad, shocking and then hilarious. It really is a top-notch production with a very powerful script and excellent casting and direction. Now I simply can’t wait to see the set and to get back on to that Manoel stage!”

Tickets to the show, which will take place at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta between 16-18 and on 23, 24 October, can be purchased from www.teatrumanoel.com.mt, by e-mailing at [email protected] or by calling on 2124 6389. Tickets cost between €14 and €25. The play is rated 14

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