The art of romantic combustion | Adrian Buckle and Toni Attard

Roughly a year before Unifaun Theatre Productions hit the headlines in 2009 as they were banned from staging the play Stitching, they shocked and dazzled audiences with a production of Philip Ridley’s dystopian horror drama Mercury Fur. Now freed from the shackles of censorship, the company tackles Tender Napalm, another play by the same author. We speak to Unifaun founder and producer Adrian Buckle and director Toni Attard about this hard-hitting romantic two-hander.

Bettina Paris and Andre Agius in Tender Napalm.
Bettina Paris and Andre Agius in Tender Napalm.

Why would you say Mercury Fur struck such a chord with local audiences? Do you think this play will have a similar effect? 

Adrian Buckle: Mercury Fur struck a chord with its audience because it talks about truth. It talks about love knowing no boundaries but within a specific contemporary mind frame.  Tender Napalm talks about love and sex in a contemporary language. It is the language young people use in every day life. Many described Mercury Fur as the greatest theatre experience they have ever sat through. Most of them were young people. Tender Napalm is another play that will speak to the young and that will give them the experience of a lifetime. Is Tender Napalm directed solely at young people?  I would say that it is a production directed at youths of all ages. There is an honest brutality to the script and to the acting that will leave the audience talking about it long after the show finishes.

Having been a cast member on Mercury Fur, Toni, what was the transition to directing another Philip Ridley play like? Did your previous experience of Ridley's work inform the way you directed the play?

Toni Attard: Although both plays explore human relationships through elements of destruction and brutality, the narratives are distinctively unique but beautiful, poetic and evocative in style. My introduction as an actor to Ridley's work through Mercury Fur and Chris Gatt's direction have certainly left a mark on my understanding of the audience's role as intimate voyeurs which is also present in Tender Napalm. However, as with any other creative project or work by the same author, the exploration of the text and its transformation into visual content with the other artists is a standalone creative journey of emotional experiences.       

The play is sometimes described as 'shocking'. In what way is it in fact shocking?

Adrian Buckle: I wouldn't say it's 'shocking'; perhaps 'brutally honest' and 'viciously funny' would be closer to the mark. This is the story of two young lovers who had something special between them. They were soul mates. Then a traumatising event happens. It is never clear what the event is but I suspect that they lost a child in a bomb explosion in some suicide bombing attack or a similar terrorist attack, or maybe they lived in a war torn country. Now, they're trying to pick up the pieces, by telling stories to each other. Some of the stories are real and some are pure fantasy.  However, there is a vein of truth running in all the stories, connecting them to each other in one poetic and lyrical experience. Some of the stories could shock some audience members but we feel that there is nothing that will cause an outcry.

On a similar note, has the removal of censorship begun to affect the way you work as a company, day to day? 

Adrian Buckle: I never let censorship get into the way of my work. When I needed to portray sex scenes on stage, I did. When I needed to portray nudity on stage, I did. The Stitching debacle was more of an exercise by certain prudes to try to clip my wings. Now that there is no censorship, we can classify our work ourselves. In the past the censors were coming up with ridiculous decisions, mostly because they never knew what the play was about. As producers, we know exactly what we are giving our audiences and how to rate our work.

How did you go about choosing the cast members, particularly given that they can make or break the play since it is a two-hander? 

Adrian Buckle: Choosing the cast was difficult. We first auditioned the role of the Woman. There were some pretty good auditions but Bettina [Paris] gave us that something special. Next we moved to audition the Man. Andre [Agius] was a natural choice because of his confidence, his physicality and his presence. This is a two-hander, and the actors cannot hide behind someone else's performance. This is why we needed a good team. In Toni Attard, I know I have a director whose creativity and imagination will drive the play to new heights. He is assisted by Lizzie Eldridge on direction and Sandra Mifsud for choreography. We needed a good team for this production with no weaknesses. I think it is exactly what we have got.

Toni Attard: Finding the perfect match was the most challenging part of the project.  Not only does Tender Napalm require strong and versatile actors but also performers who are ready to delve into the complexity of the text with the emotional and physical strength to carry forward a two-hander. We held numerous auditions, readings, workshops and also changed the cast list until a great balance was secured to develop further the work. Bettina and Andre are simply outstanding. Their energy and relationship on stage is so electrifying that at times I feel a need to leave the rehearsal room so as not to interfere in their intimate conversations. 

Tender Napalm will be staged at St James Cavalier, Valletta on January 30, 31 and February 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. For booking information log on to, or see our cultural calendar on pages 30 and 31. The play is rated 16.