The name is Bond, Edward Bond | Adrian Buckle

Stage producer Adrian Buckle (Unifaun Theatre) expounds on his passion for the plays of notorious British theatre-maker Edward Bond, ahead of Unifaun’s production of Bond’s own Olly’s Prison – directed by Chris Cooper at St James Cavalier over March 8, 9; 15-17 and 22-24.

Adrian Buckle:
Adrian Buckle: "Many consider Bond’s plays to be bleak and dark. I find a lot of hope in them."

Edward Bond remains a controversial theatre-maker, even in his own country. Was the decision to stage one of his plays in Malta - which is fresh from ridding itself of a censorship law - something of a deliberate choice (if not a direct affront) given Malta's current cultural climate? 

I am doing an Edward Bond play because I am an Edward Bond fanatic. I consider him to be the greatest living playwright. The reason I do the theatre I do is owed to the influence Edward Bond has over me. It all started back in 2001, when I was still looking for my theatrical voice. Edward was in Malta to give some workshops and I attended all of them. Such was the effect of his writing on me that I quickly realised that this was the theatre I wanted to do. So I founded Unifaun. I have been wishing to do one of his plays for a long time but never found the courage.

Then I met Chris Cooper, who is a Bond specialist director and we agreed to create this project which included work in schools with pupils, work with teachers, actor training and Olly's Prison production. It was all thanks to the Malta Arts Fund, the Malta National Lotteries Good Causes Fund and the British Council who supported this project.

Though a certain uncompromising intensity is what appears to tie Bond's work together (and contribute to his notoriety), his plays run the gamut of topics, themes and imagery. What would you say is most striking about Olly's Prison in particular? 

Many consider Bond's plays to be bleak and dark. I find a lot of hope in them. Olly's Prison is one perfect example. The characters go through a torrid experience but at the end, there is hope. Bond's plays show how society turns us into violent people. But the violence is not celebrated in Bond's plays. It is shown for the ugly thing it is. At the end, even where no hope is left, with Edward's plays, the audience itself is the hope that emanates from the text.

What was the process of selecting the cast like, when it comes to such a tough, emotionally wrenching play? 

Chris Cooper held a two-day workshop where he worked on Olly's Prison and another play called Broken Bowl, where he got to know the actors, their strengths and who would be best playing which character.

Could you describe the various characters that make up the play, and how they were matched in the casting? 

Everything revolves around Mike (played by Manuel Cauchi). He is the central figure and all characters exist in relation to him. We needed an actor with experience and stamina, and Manuel was an obvious choice. The other actors fit in nicely too with their characters. I remember Chris Cooper remarking how actors like Steve Hili, Victor Debono and Dave Persiva not only were good for the role but they were also physically adapted to play the given roles.

As mentioned above, Bond has had a rocky relationship with his native England over the years, having then found solace in France for a period. Taking into account that the play will be directed by Bond 'regular' Chris Cooper, did you nonetheless feel any pressure in producing a play by such a notoriously 'difficult' writer and director? 

We were lucky to have Chris Cooper directing, as it facilitated negotiations with the agents. Bond doesn't give his plays to just anyone. He wants to approve the director.  Since we had Chris Cooper, this was not a problem. Other than that, it is an honour to be doing one of his plays. We are even inviting him to come to Malta for the first night to talk with the audience after the show. Actors involved will have the enviable opportunity of working with him for a week.

A masterclass with Chris Cooper was organised in the run up to the play. How did local actors deal with the workshop, and what kind of insight into Bond's work did they display? Will this have a direct bearing on the upcoming production of Olly's Prison? 

For many of the actors, this masterclass was an introduction to Bond. Chris worked on two texts (Olly's Prison and Broken Bowl) and workshopped different situations.  He concentrated on the theory of Bondian Drama, that is, you don't play the character, but you play the scene. It will definitely have a bearing on the production because actors were cast in the masterclass. Chris expects a different kind of acting, one that moves away from established practitioners like Stanislavski and Grotowski. I think this approach is innovative and will challenge the actors very positively.