‘What the hell just hit me?’ | Adrian Buckle

Ahead of staging Martin Crimp’s avant-garde classic Attempts on Her Life at St James Cavalier, Unifaun Theatre founder and the play’s producer Adrian Buckle tells us about how his team, headed by American director Dave Barton, is approaching this unique example of Physical Theatre, which Buckle dubs “a feminist play written by a man”

American director Dave Barton marshals an ensemble cast in Unifaun Theatre’s production of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life • Photo by Darrin Zammit Lupi
American director Dave Barton marshals an ensemble cast in Unifaun Theatre’s production of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life • Photo by Darrin Zammit Lupi

Though it’s something of a contemporary classic, Martin Crimp’s play is also quite formally daring. Why did you decide to adopt such a play as your next project, and what ideas did you have in mind when thinking up ways of making it palatable to a local audience?

I have a special soft spot for Physical Theatre. In my opinion, movement and the mechanics of the human body are the greatest art form. I remember watching DV8’s John and being enthralled by it. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to do some physical theatre in the near future. I had tried it in the past but each attempt ended up never materializing. I remember that when I started looking at scripts that might be interpreted physically, a friend of mine suggested Attempts on Her Life. 

I have to admit that after first read, my reaction was “What the hell just hit me?” Then, when I read it over and over again, the themes started sinking in. First of all, this is a completely unconventional play, and because of that it is a modern classic that has inspired dozens of other playwrights to attempt the same method of writing. 

In the play, there are no definite characters or storylines. Instead there are voices and scenarios; 17 different scenarios to be exact. In these scenarios we hear about a woman called Anne, or Anoushka, or Anya.  We never meet her.  We just hear news about her from the other actors, or the other voices. 

Sometimes they are her friends, sometimes her parents, sometimes they are her victims, sometimes her oppressors. With each scenario, Anne changes. She is an innocent girl in one scenario and a prostitute in another. She is a victim of ethnic cleansing in one scenario and a terrorist in another. 

What Martin Crimp is doing here is that he is peeling off the skin of this mysterious Anne to discover what woman is made of. In a way, this is a feminist play written by a man. Attempts on Her Life is maybe the most avant-garde piece Unifaun has ever attempted. To work on this project we employed maverick Californian theatre director Dave Barton, who many will remember from our production of Sarah Kane’s Blasted and MADC’s Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night. 

Sandra Mifsud joined the group as choreographer.  We were thrilled to have Sandra on board, especially following her sterling work on Tender Napalm. Then we have an explosive and energetic young cast in Lizzie Eldridge, Bettina Paris, Larissa Bonaci, Mariele Zammit, Antonella Mifsoode, Marie Keiser-Nielsen, Ruth Borg, Philip Leone Ganado, Vladislav Ilich and debutant Timmy Paris. The play is very visual and energetic. Stories are told through text and movement. Sometimes it is also told through projection, as we intend to make this a multi-visual show.

What are main challenges of a play that’s structured in this way, and how do you hope the actors in particular will meet this challenge?  

It is a challenge because instead of characters and a story line we have 17 different scenarios about one woman. The actors have to be careful because they cannot rely on their Stanislavski tricks to create a character. They have to enact a moment. With most of our acting in Malta based on Stanislavski methods, this is not easy. But it also makes for more engaging and exciting theatre because the acting is more honest.  

Do you think the play’s multi-media focus makes it more appealing to a general audience, or is the essentially fragmented nature of it even more of a challenge?  

Anthony Neislon, author of Stitching, once told me that the most important thing in theatre is that the audience has fun. By having fun we don't mean that they have to see a comedy or a farce but that they are engaged.  I agree with him wholeheartedly. How many times do we hear, “I don’t go to the theatre, but I should!”... Excuse me?  Why should you?  You don’t go to the theatre to learn; you go to the theatre to be engaged and to have fun. 

This is what we are trying to do with Attempts on Her Life. We are trying to engage the audience and we are willing to do this through the staging and the multi-media.  We want this to be an experience the audience readily forget. The challenge is to make it engaging and not didactic. This is not a lesson.  This is a show.

What do you make of the local theatre scene? What would you change about it?

I think the local theatre scene is developing quite nicely. Gone are the days when we had to go through the censors to put on a play. Soon, we won’t be threatened by obscenity and blasphemy laws either. I think the scene is becoming more professional. I would be happier if more companies took risks with their work but I guess everyone has his niche and as long as the quality is good, all theatre is welcome.

What’s next for you?  

In February we are presenting Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa, a play about the sea-crossing over the Mediterranean.  It is a very topical play and we will put on some performances in English and others in Maltese. Then in April we are holding the world premiere of Edward Bond’s new play The Price of One. This is the first time that a Maltese company has commissioned such a great and important playwright and it will be a co-production between the Manoel Theatre and Unifaun with the support of the Malta Arts Fund. The show will then travel to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August. 

Then, later in 2016 we will be staging Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Manoel Theatre, directed by Chris Cooper with Mikhail Basmadjian and Marcelle Teuma in the leading parts.

Attempts on Her Life will be staged at St James Cavalier, Valletta on October 30 and 31; November 1, 5-8, 12-14. Bookings and more information: http://www.kreattivita.org/

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