If it ain’t funny, we won’t put it on

Teodor Reljic speaks to the production team behind Mellow Drama, responsible for some of the most successful comedies to hit the local stage in recent times, about their latest production - David Tristram's Unoriginal Sin

With the passage of time, Adam and Eve’s infamous Biblical transgression has inspired a number of copycat sinners and is nowadays not so original at all. UK playwright David Tristram takes this premise and runs with it in Unoriginal Sin, which will be playing at the Manoel Theatre next weekend courtesy of Mellow Drama.

Mellow Drama has had a consistent success with comedies that manage to be both broad and quirky. Was it established early on that you wanted to carve that particular niche, and do you ever get the urge to do more austere work?

Steve Casaletto, director: No, we where always about comedy, since day one. So far we have not really had any inclination to stray from the path to the dark side. But you never know.

James Calvert, producer: From the word go we collectively agreed that Mellow Drama would never produce a play that wasn’t funny. That’s not to say our productions can’t have a serious underlying message or moral, they can. But even if they do, they must get that message across in a way that leaves people upbeat and entertained. Our theory – whether it’s right or wrong – is that people have enough stress and angst in their lives without having to add to it. We want them to leave the theatre with a smile on their faces… and maybe a damp patch on their trousers. I would love to say I get the urge to tackle more serious drama from time to time, but it would be a lie. I just want to make people laugh and on that basis, I will leave ‘deep theatre’ to people who are considerably better at it.

John Montanaro, producer/actor: Laughter is the best medicine! As theatre companies go, Mellow Drama is a bit on the unique side. We formed in 2003 with a single goal in mind – to make people laugh. As founders, we all share a belief that theatre should be about relaxing, letting your hair down and enjoying yourself. Our commitment – which we have followed passionately since our formation – is to produce comedies and nothing but comedies. If it ain’t funny, we won’t put it on.

On a related note, do you feel that other local productions maybe take themselves a bit too seriously, and that what you’re in fact doing is presenting an antidote to that?

SC: I think there is a place for all types of theatre and theatrical expression. Just as some of the theatre other people are doing is not my cup of tea, I’m sure that for some people what we are doing is also not to their taste. As long as the audiences are enjoying it, and we are enjoying it, we will continue to make people laugh in as many ways as possible.

JC: Not at all. I think there is plenty of room for theatre companies who want to tackle serious issues and, by definition those companies need to take themselves seriously. If they don’t believe and feel the story they are telling, then the audience won’t. We, on the other hand, like to offer an alternative that is light-hearted and easy to absorb. There are plenty of people who like both extremes and that will always be the case.

JM: There is place in the theatre world for serious, deep and meaningful drama, but there are plenty of other companies around who can tackle this theatre with a purpose and tackle it well. We wanted Mellow Drama to be about fun and happiness because there is little in life more satisfying than making people laugh.

What is it about David Tristram’s script that really clicked with the kind of comedy you go for?

SC: Tristram is a very talented comedy playwright and so a lot of his plays have struck a chord with us. However on a personal note I really wanted to revisit farce as a genre and so this particular piece really stood out as being clever and fun while still providing all the challenges that this type of comedy brings to the table.

JC: It combines intelligent and situation comedy in equal measure, which is a lovely blend. And Steve has been chomping at the bit to get his teeth stuck into a farce, so this was the logical choice.

JM: Tristram claims he writes only comedy because he can’t take himself too seriously. His plays are witty and very funny, with some one liners which I will continue to quote way after this production is over. This is British comedy at its finest, which is right up our street.

With all the recent broo ha ha over censorship and the walking-on-eggshells approach it inspires when artists tackle religion, do you think there’s anything at all risky to the play’s title and overriding theme?

SC: Well to be honest, the last thing we are usually looking to do is upset anybody from either a religious (or any other) angle. We are all about making people laugh and having a great evening out. However, nearly all the plays we have done have had a serious message to them (all the best comedy has a message really). To be honest, although the divorce debate is an extremely hot topic at the moment, I don’t think that it will in any way offend in the way it is presented.

JC: The thing about good theatre is that you should be able to relate to it. If you can see yourself in one of the characters we are portraying on stage then it will be all the more relevant. This play is not a social commentary on the Maltese scene, although it does cover a number of subjects which are particularly relevant to Malta at the moment. But that should just make it all the more interesting. We don’t plan to be controversial in the plays we pick, but if a current topic happens to be covered in the script then we won’t shy away from it.

What’s the greatest challenge when directing a quick-fire comedy such as this?

SC: The main challenge for this sort of production is to remain as real and true to life as possible. The situations and the major comedy comes from the actors portraying real people. The second part is probably the speed with which things change in this type of comedy. Pace is key. The ultimate challenge is of course making sure we are still enjoying ourselves by the time we get the production on stage and in front of an audience.

Did the cast have fun with the characters?

SC: Yes, I think we all had fun with the characters. Some of them more than others of course. One thing I have learnt over the years though is that what we as a cast find the most hilarious isn’t always necessarily the thing that the audience enjoys the most. Of course that is the main attraction of live theatre. Every night, every audience, every performance is different, as all three play off against each other to give a unique experience each time.

JM: It’s crucially important that the actors enjoy their roles to the fullest because that enjoyment will shine through on stage. And, generally speaking, that means they have to play with the roles and see where that takes them. I am 100% sure, considering the people involved in Unoriginal Sin, that the playful element would have been exceptionally strong. In fact, I can only imagine Steve has probably had a struggle on his hands trying to put some serious moments together. Having said that, Mellow Drama’s plays are all about fun and that applies just as much to the actors as the audience.

The cast includes John Montanaro, Louiselle Vassallo, Faye Paris, Barry Calvert, Stefan Cheriet Busuttil and Jean-Pierre Agius; the play is be directed by Steve Casaletto.

All performances start at 20:00. Tickets for the play are available at €20, €18, €15 and €10. Bookings can be made in person at the Manoel Theatre on online at www.teatrumanoel.com.mt. More information about this production and Mellow Drama’s future productions is available on www.mellowdrama.com.mt.