Loving the undead | Steve Hili

Rewriting Shakespeare may seem like a tall order, but Steve Hili, ‘a radio host with small nipples and smelly armpits’ has decided to create a sequel to the world’s favourite love story. He speaks to us about Romeo and Juliet 2 and a Zombie.

Steve Hili.
Steve Hili.

Why, for the love of all that is sane and good, did you choose to write an unlikely sequel to Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet is the greatest love story the world has ever known. And it all came crashing down due to terrible timing! Had Juliet woken up just five short minutes earlier all would have been good. The Friar's plan would have worked. The star crossed lovers would have cheated fate!

I love the story of Romeo and Juliet, but like just about everyone who has ever watched it, I asked myself: what if? And then, I got a bit carried away. Hence a zombie, a mad witch and the artist formerly known as Prince.

Were you at all intimidated by Shakespeare's original as you were writing, and were you worried that purists will not respond kindly to you 'tampering' with the master's work?

This play has to be taken in the spirit with which it was intended. It is a madcap, naughty, low-brow comedy with no pretensions of being anything else. William Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the history of the English language. I, on the other hand, am a radio host with small nipples and smelly armpits. I wouldn't dream of taking him on. That isn't really what the play is about and I would hate anyone to think I was tampering with Willy's work at all. In fact, it starts where he has finished.  Having said that I am pretty proud of it - I think it is brilliant! 

Having said that, do you think we're a bit stuffy about our theatre in Malta? Would you welcome more productions like this?

We can be stuffy about our theatre, but perhaps it is more of a question of not knowing how to handle fringe-style pieces. Having said that, there is definitely a sub-culture growing that is taking Maltese theatre to the wild side - some really good stuff such as Malcolm Galea's Porn, and the burlesque shows by The Dazzle Troupe.

I suppose a production like this has a very specific kind of humour... how did you go about choosing a cast who were 'game' enough for this sort of thing?

The audition process was great. As soon as I gave my actors the script and I saw the reaction on their faces, I knew if they 'got' it or not. The show reflects my sort of irreverent humour and I knew that it was important that my actors shared it. While writing it, I had a rough idea about who I wanted in the cast and it is pretty much as I had envisaged. These guys are up for anything - laughing along in the rehearsal process as they are slowly being stripped of their dignity! I wanted them to take ownership of it make it their own and that is exactly what they have been doing. They are great!

Ultimately: what can we expect from an evening like this? Will we cry, as well as laugh? Or do you hope that we'll get to do a bit of both...?

I don't envisage that there will be a lot of crying. But there are pink tights involved in a particular scene that might bring a tear to the eye... the show is naughty, silly, and zany. Some people will love it, some people will hate it and some people will just be left scratching their head. Most people will think it is weird!

How do you juggle radio, drama as well as other scriptwriting? What would you say is your secret to maintaining a productive working life, and what advice would you give to anyone who wants to attempt to do the same?

It's not easy, but it is workable. I think you need to make sure that you are doing things that you love. And you need to work hard to try to make yourself better at them so that invariably you can earn enough to not have to do things that you do not love. Juggling becomes a chore when it also involves things you do not enjoy doing. Otherwise, it's fun. And a support structure always helps. I wouldn't be able to do any of this without my wife Kat. Plus, that I need to take regular breaks and holidays when I can, just to recharge and get the creative juices going again. Oh and I have a pair of lucky underpants too. When things get tough, I just pull them on and all is right with the world!

The play will be staged at the MADC Clubrooms, Sta Venera on August 31, September 1-2 at 20:30. Tickets at €10 can be booked by calling 99 449161.