The Conqueror Squirm | Andre Agius

Actor Andre Agius, who will be taking on the role of Charles Marlow in the MADC production of Oliver Goldsmith’s classic stage farce She Stoops to Conquer, speaks to Teodor Reljic about the timeless social comedy, how he's adapting the role for contemporary Maltese audiences, and his take on the state of the local theatrical scene

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
8 March 2017, 7:48am
Andre Agius: “On delving deeper into the play one finds topics of class, feminism and gender dynamics” (Photo: Sebio Aquilina)
Andre Agius: “On delving deeper into the play one finds topics of class, feminism and gender dynamics” (Photo: Sebio Aquilina)
First performed in London in 1773, Oliver Goldsmith’s classic stage farce She Stoops to Conquer heads to not one, but two venues on the Maltese theatrical scene, courtesy of an MADC production directed by comedy veteran Malcolm Galea. Actor Andre Agius, who will be taking the role of Charles Marlow - a well-educated gentleman with a weakness for high-class females - speaks about the production.

What drew you to the role of Charles Marlow in the first place? Did it have more to do with the script itself, or did the creative team play a part too?

To tell you the truth, I had heard the phrase ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ in conversation a couple of times but never knew from where it originated exactly. So when I saw that MADC were putting up a play with the same name, it really caught my eye and made me look into it a bit further, finding out one of the funniest 18th century comedies in the process. That being said, the opportunity of working with MADC again, was something I could not pass up, having worked with them on a number of productions, including a Shakespeare play, a Panto and a One-Acts when I was just 9 (where I was nominated for best-actor). And of course, the promise of working with Malcolm Galea (who I’ve worked with before as an actor) also tipped the scales in favor of auditioning. 

Perhaps 18th century plays in English aren’t all that common in Malta – what do you think lies behind the appeal of She Stoops to Conquer, and how do you think it will appeal to Maltese audiences in particular?

Perhaps they aren’t but they should be, as they’re actually quite relevant to our times. This 18th century farcical comedy of manners is essentially the equivalent of a modern-day farce. Eleanor Ty, an English professor at Wilfrid Laurier University describes the play as “probably a very mild form of Sex and the City; she sees a man and she goes after him.” She Stoops to Conquer, as the name suggests, centers on a relationship between Kate Hardcastle (the one who does the stooping) and Charles Marlow (the one who’s inevitably the target to be conquered), but on delving deeper into the play one finds topics of class, feminism and gender dynamics at the heart of it, that were not only relevant to the time of Goldsmith’s but also still quite relevant to ours. Meaning that the evening will not only have an audience member rip-roaring with laughter but will also have them inquire to what has really changed since Goldsmith’s time.

Could you tell us a little bit about the character that you’ll be playing? 

I play Charles Marlow, an intelligent and well-educated modest gentleman who has set out from London to come and meet Kate Hardcastle, the daughter of a high-class family, with the aim of inevitably becoming her suitor. Yet like Superman to kryptonite, Marlow is possessed by a ‘Jekyll-and-Hyde’ syndrome, whereby he is mortified to lock eyes and share a word or two with high-class modest women, yet ‘with females of another class’ – things tend to turn a bit hot and steamy… 

What do you make of Malcolm Galea’s directorial efforts? 

Galea has a great understanding of what he wants to be portrayed within the performance. Being a playwright himself, I feel that he adds a layer of understanding both in terms of the journey each character goes through as well as the perception of the relationships between the characters, within the course of the play. 

His trademark comedy style is an asset to have when it comes to understanding the comical elements within a scene, and where some need to be emphasized or pulled back to get the full punch of a line or a moment. 

Galea’s main aim within rehearsals, is that as actors we transmit to the audience members the true meaning behind the lines, given that they are written in 18th century English, spending a great deal of time working and exploring the definitions and intonations behind the lines, to fully bring out the true meaning that Goldsmith would have intended. 

Tina Rizzo and Andre Agius in MADC’s She Stoops to Conquer (Photo: Sebio Aquilina)
Tina Rizzo and Andre Agius in MADC’s She Stoops to Conquer (Photo: Sebio Aquilina)
This production will arguably be a first for Malta, in that it will be taking place across two different venues – Teatru Salesjan and the Manoel Theatre – over two separate weekends. What motivated this decision, and do you think it will help the play reach wider audiences?

I believe, this is the second time the MADC is taking on this venture in doing a sort of ‘mini-tour’, I think the decision is based mainly in terms of audience outreach, offering audiences the opportunity of viewing it within two different yet similar venues, in two different localities. 

What do you make of the local theatrical scene? What would you change about it?

I think the local theatrical scene is going through a transitional phase, by which I mean that there are a lot of things that are positively working towards the sector, but then there are a lot of other things that are cancelling the positive elements out. 

Personally, at times I feel we are losing sight of what it really is we are aiming at doing within theatre. We often get sidetracked with unnecessary issues that occur offstage, rather than focusing on improving and delivering a great product. We don’t realise in how many ways theatre is being applied to better people’s lives or giving them hope, within the community. We also often forget where theatre came from, and how much it’s evolved over centuries and taken on a variety of shapes and sizes, for it to be present within our society and culture today. These are things we need to be reminded of from time to time (myself included). 

As a theatregoer, I feel like there isn’t as much variety as I’d like to see within theatre programs, mainly in the choice of plays both internationally and nationally, we should aim to have a more diverse theatre – in terms of content, playwrights, performance spaces, narratives, and theatre genres. Personally, I feel like we need to go back to go forward: there needs to be an understanding of what is currently in place and being offered and how it can be improved or connected. I also feel we need to look more into collaborations giving a fresh and more interdisciplinary approach to the sector.

What’s next for you?

After ‘She Stoops’, my full focus will be on wrapping up my thesis and degree in Theatre Studies, but I guess, if nothing comes up, my next theatre endeavor will be something a little bit different and very exciting – I will be directing David Hare’s Skylight at the MITP theatre, to open MADC’s artistic season next year. It’s a three-hander, which in the simplest terms explores the limits of people and relationships over the most conventional of scenarios: preparing a plate of pasta. 

But of course, there’s a lot more beneath all that including a ‘mixture of private pain and public rage at our profoundly polarised society’, as written by Michael Billington. It’s a new venture that I’m passionate about jumping head-first into, and attempting at doing things a bit differently. 

My aim is to work with a great array of artists from different backgrounds who will play an active role towards the culmination of this production; coupled of course with the safe-hands that is the wealth of experience the MADC has, in aiding new directors carry out their vision within a production.

She Stoops to Conquer will be staged at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta over March 17-19 and at the Teatru Salesjan, Sliema over March 24-26 at 20:00. It is directed for the MADC by Malcolm Galea with a cast including Marylu Coppini, Stephen Oliver, Tina Rizzo, Andre Agius, Michael Mangion, Joe Depasquale, Giulia Gatt and Gianni Selvaggi. Bookings: www.madc.com.mt, [email protected] or 7777 6232 (SMS)

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