IVF at an extreme: new Unifaun productions pushes the envelope once again

Breathing a sigh of relief after the infamous Stitching censorship case, Unifaun Theatre Productions will be back on the boards with another hard-hitting production this month.

Sins of the father: John Suda (left) and Mikhail Basmadjan.
Sins of the father: John Suda (left) and Mikhail Basmadjan.

Under the tutelage of producer Adrian Buckle, Unifaun will be launching into the new theatrical season with a production of Caryl Churchill's hard-hitting human cloning drama, A Number.

The award winning play, directed for the Maltese stage by Chris Gatt, will be a two-hander for three characters.

The story centres on a father, Salter (played by John Suda) who decides to relive his past by cloning his son (both the 'original' and the clone will be played by Mikhail Basmadjan).

Asked whether he believes the central conceit of the play addresses universal facts about contemporary life, Buckle said that with Unifaun, he always aims to produce plays that are "topical and that have something to say about modern society," while adding that A Number is also more urgently relevant to Maltese society given recent political developments.

"Recently, the government announced its IVF bill. Some agreed with it; many disagreed for different reasons. It has become a national discussion and maybe a test for the current administration. A Number speaks about an extreme form of IVF; it speaks about human cloning.

What it has to say is relevant to the discussion going on in the country as it puts the ethics behind the procedures under the microscope," Buckle said, while also reassuring that the play will ultimately touch on a wider scope of human preoccupations.

"It is also a play about identity and parenthood. What is it that makes us human?  What gives us our identity? What makes us who we are?  Is it our nature, our genes or is it the way we were brought up? In this play, a father abandons his first child, aged four, but not before he has him cloned, so that he can start over again. 

"When the children grow up, the clone discovers that he is actually just a clone and that there are at least 20 others cloned of the same original. He feels crippled and incomplete, as if his identity has been taken away from him. Things come to a head when the original son returns."

Is Buckle concerned about plunging into such a topical and emotionally compromising play, after the ordeal he suffered with Stitching (a local production of Anthony Nielson's play was banned by the now-defunct censorship board when Unifaun had attempted to stage it in 2009)?

"I have never felt apprehensive about any play I put on. I have always been confident that the audiences would appreciate what we are trying to do. With A Number we have Chris Gatt directing and seasoned actors like John Suda and Mikhail Basmadjian portraying the characters. There is nothing to be apprehensive about. Besides the general public has matured and can take a play that strikes at a raw nerve," Buckle said, reiterating that "Stitching will be performed as soon as the censorship legislation is through".

A Number will be playing at St James Cavalier, Valletta over October 19-21 and 26-28 at 20:00. Tickets are at €15 (€12 for opening night). Bookings: [email protected], 21 223200. The play is rated 16, and forms part of the Science in the City project.