Home is where the hurt is | Marcelle Theuma

We speak to theatre director Marcelle Theuma, who will be taking the helms of a challenging local production, ‘Pretty Lisa’ which aims to raise awareness of domestic violence in Malta.

Sharon Bezzina (front) and Magda von Kuilenburg (back) in Marcelle Theuma’s production Pretty Lisa.
Sharon Bezzina (front) and Magda von Kuilenburg (back) in Marcelle Theuma’s production Pretty Lisa.

Were there any preconceived notions of domestic violence that you wanted to challenge, before you started working on the play?

Yes definitely - what usually comes to mind when one mentions domestic violence is a face, beaten up, all bruised, with a black eye possibly - this is how the media has always portrayed domestic violence and this is the stereotype I wanted to challenge - to unearth other stories that remain otherwise unheard such as those of well-educated women who also experience abuse.

How would you describe the play's action, and its characters?

The performance has been devised around three women, all victims of domestic violence, but all survivors of domestic violence. One woman was physically abused, the other sexually abused and the third verbally abused by their husbands. They all narrate how they found themselves trapped in their household and what eventually led them out of it. All three women have struggled and fought in order to safeguard their children and in spite of the helpless situations they found themselves in they managed to crawl out of the way of their perpetrator and build a new life.

Could you explain the process of how you set about illustrating the theme of domestic violence in a physical theatre format? What were some of the things that inspired you?

The main source of inspiration was my encounter with some of the women who narrated to us their real life stories during workshops which were specifically organised in order to facilitate the sharing of these dreadful experiences. These women were the source of my inspiration so my stance was always to push forward the idea that it is the women who are going to narrate to an audience what it is to be a victim of domestic violence.

I have to say that as a woman director I feel strongly biased towards tackling this theme from a female perspective although I would be very interested in the future to create a performance whereby the theme of domestic violence is portrayed by male actors and possibly by an all-male cast.

It is strange but nevertheless a fact that a theme like domestic violence generally has a female voice that shouts it. It could very well be that this is because it is women who are generally more vulnerable to abuse. It could also be a demonstration, as well as a confirmation, of how macho and patriarchal our society still is.

As I was preparing and writing down ideas for this performance I always had in mind to depict domestic violence through physical theatre. It was an association that came about almost naturally probably because to my mind whether it is physical, sexual or verbal abuse the body is a focus for exploration in the portrayal of such a theme.

Parallel to the stories narrated through words my endeavour was to create a narrative/narratives through the physical expression of the actresses, at times unrelated to what the characters are actually saying but always faithful to the theme. This was also my way of breaking free from constraints words can sometimes subject us to. In my directorial mind, bodies in movement, or lack of, were fodder to develop a performance about domestic violence but expressed through visual poetry. This was the way in which I wanted to unfold more emphatically the intimate stories of these women.

What led you to work in the bilingual element?

The bilingual element primarily came about to attract, hopefully, a larger audience. The aim of this performance is to create an awareness of domestic violence and also to help raise funds for Dar Qalb ta' Gesu', the shelter home that takes care of women and their children until they manage to get back on their feet and start a new life.

What kind of mood does the play create? Would you say that there is something of a redemptive element to it, despite its gloomy subject matter?

The redemptive element is absolutely a must especially with such a theme also because I truly believe that there is always a way out of any given situation in life and that we must never give up hope to do whatever it takes to feel at peace with ourselves and our surroundings.

Everyone deserves to love and be loved in return. In spite of the gloominess of the subject matter the performance ends with this liberating tone.

Pretty Lisa will be playing at the Manoel Theatre on May 19, interpreted by the actresses Sharon Bezzina, Magda von Kuilenburg and Daniela Vassallo, based on real-life accounts. The performance will start at 20:00. Tickets at €12 can be booked through the Manoel Theatre: [email protected]; 21 246389.

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