Of floppadongs, improv and ‘sideburn theatre’ | Christopher Dingli and Malcolm Galea

Seasoned improv comics Malcolm Galea and Christopher Dingli speak to us about their annual Christmas appointment at St James Cavalier, Valletta, as their improv comedy show enters launches into their third edition with Dingle Bells, Malcolm Smells: Secret of the Floppadong.

Malcolm Galea (left) and Christopher Dingli.
Malcolm Galea (left) and Christopher Dingli.

What's funny?

Christopher Dingli: There's a saying which states that trying to dissect jokes is like dissecting a frog. You'll eventually find out how it works but you'll kill the frog in the process. I think it's the same when trying to discuss what is funny. Everything and nothing! It all depends on the frog.

Malcolm Galea: Everything. Humour can be derived from every person, object and situation. You start by laughing at yourself and then move on to the rest of the universe.

Is improvisation as scary as it looks?

CD: Pretty much, yes. It's very nerve-wracking in the run-up to the show and waiting in the wings before a performance is a master class in bladder control. But once you start, then it's really good fun.

MG: Worse, and it's mentally draining to boot, since you need to be in a state of hyper awareness for the entire show. In my mind, I compare it to skydiving without a parachute and relying on a series of strategically placed branches to break your fall. When I first started doing theatre, I used to feel a cocktail of excitement and fear before a show, but for the last few years I've only been getting it for high-pressure performances (such as at Edinburgh and London) and even then, it's only for the first few nights. With Dingle Bells I get it before each individual show - and it's great.  

What's the ethos - if indeed there is one - behind Theatre Gone Wrong?

CD: We don't have anything official apart from our flag, statute, anthem, manifesto, handshake, uniform, membership card, salute and engraved stone tablet declaring our true nature. Actually no, we don't have any of those. I suppose we are determined to make our shows as funny as we can make them, be creative and enjoy it while it lasts!

MG: We create 'Sideburn Theatre'. This is kind of like Fringe Theatre, except even more removed and out of the way. The original aim of our shows was to entertain our audiences while also having a good time working and experimenting together. This still remains our main intention.

However, through our numerous workshops together we're starting to create our own hybrid theatre style where improvisation is combined with pieces of pre-rehearsed text and it's all mixed up organically so the audience can't really tell which is which. Over the years we've even built up our own jargon for certain aspects of the show - such as the devices we use to lead each other to conclude a scene and to keep track of time. The nature of the project is also temporary. This year the run will have less days than usual since Chris will be going into a production in the UK in early January and it's only a matter of time before one or more of us will be unable to make the shows altogether. That's why we're resolved to make the best of it while it lasts and we encourage our audiences to do the same!

Do you offer a true alternative to the standard Christmas theatre fare?

CD: I think so. We're not panto and we're definitely not a nativity play

MG: Christmas entertainment is pretty much entirely aimed at families. Ours is one of the very few shows that invites grown-ups to leave the kids with a babysitter and come to have a good laugh with their friends. Our show is aimed at adults not because we go out of our way to have adult themes, but we take on a lot of audience suggestions - and many of these would have themes of a very adult nature. Each show is what the audience makes it. As far as I know, there are not many Christmas shows locally that enable you to do that.

Could you give us a hint as to what the titular 'floppadong' refers to?

MG: I'm afraid the only way one can discover the nature of the floppadong is by coming to the show. Also it's pointless asking audience members who have already seen the show what the floppadong is because they would have been sworn to secrecy via a solemn and communal pinkie-oath that will take place during the show.

The show will be playing over December 21 to 30, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The show starts at 20:00. Tickets are at €10.