‘The supermarket has created the refugee status’

Unifaun Theatre founder Adrian Buckle speaks to us about the prolific company’s most ambitious venture yet – setting up the world premiere of The Price of One, an original play by renowned British playwright Edward Bond 

Magda van Kuilenburg in The Price of One • Photo by Jacob Sammut
Magda van Kuilenburg in The Price of One • Photo by Jacob Sammut

Could you tell us a bit about how this collaboration with Edward Bond came to be? What was it in particular that attracted him about Maltese theatrical talent?

This collaboration started in 2013 when we staged Edward’s play Olly’s Prison.  We invited Edward over for first night performance and he kindly offered to work with us for the whole of production week, also because it was being directed by his good friend Chris Cooper. I remember when we were out for lunch on one of the days, I asked him if he would allow me to stage his yet unperformed play Innocence, which is an absolute cracker. However, there were issues about the play being performed here by us, especially when it came to location. Innocence ends with a large bonfire, something which very few theatre in Malta, if any will accept.

So I then asked Edward if he would accept a commission from us. This he did, although why he did, only he knows. I hope it is because when he was over here, he saw potential in our theatre scene. What he did tell me he saw, was Malta’s place in the Mediterranean and European politics. Malta, he told me, is at the centre of the Mediterranean. It is where Africa meets with Europe. This, he said was unique.

I have to remark that the project almost died. I tried involving Valletta 2018 Foundation but was told they had no funds to help us. Probably the funds had already been voted for the UEFA Under 17 Football Tournament, I don’t know… Then, Arts Council Chairman Albert Marshall stepped in and roped in the Manoel Theatre, who agreed to pay the commission on condition that we staged it at the theatre, which I was more than happy to do as the Manoel is our national theatre.  After that, we got funding from the Malta Arts Fund and it all came together.

How would you describe the play? What are some of its main dynamics? And would you say it has themes that are particularly relevant to Malta?

Bondian Theatre is unique. The main dynamic of Edward Bond’s theatre is that the actors must not rely on their psychological inner life to try to portray a character. Rather, they have to enact a scene. Unlike Brecht, Edward Bond examines a problem from the inside. It is taking some being used to by the actors, but they are getting there.

Actually I think that director Chris Cooper, who is back to direct a Bond play, is doing a marvellous job and the actors are really giving it their all. What does this play say about Malta? I remember that when Edward first sent me the script, I wrote to him giving him my understanding of the play, which is that the supermarket has created the refugee status, but Edward went on to tell me that it was about much more than that. This is a play about Malta, but it is also a play about Europe, about the world.

What kind of milestone does this event mark for your company?

Obviously this is a great milestone for Unifaun: We have commissioned Edward Bond! I founded Unifaun with the intention of producing quality new work. True, I have done the odd classic, but our focus has mainly been on new work, work that pushed the envelope, work that challenged people, work that pushed us out of our comfort zone. According to some people, I overdid it – read: Stitching – but my audiences always knew what they were in for.

I also founded Unifaun to be able to do work by Edward. Before starting Unifaun, I knew I wanted to be in theatre but I couldn’t understand what it was I actually wanted to do. Then, after a week’s workshops with this man, I found myself.

This was the theatre I wanted to do.

Some of my friends found it too negative. I was in absolute awe of the truth and humanity of the plays. This was the theatre I wanted to do. I proposed it to another theatre group but they replied that it was not their style, so I went on to found Unifaun. Did I know then I would be commissioning Edward? No. But I feel we have reached certain standards that have enabled us to do so.

Do you hope this event will set a precedent for local theatre? What do you think local theatre practitioners can learn from it? 

I honestly hope this will not be the last commission of a great playwright. I also hope that more theatre companies commission more Maltese playwrights, like Stagun Teatru Malti are doing. I hope that local artists learn from this work. 

There are very few decent local playwrights, but most of them are still experimenting with their trade. I hope this experience will give them focus to improve their writing, even though I must admit that some of it is already very good. Simone Spiteri and Malcolm Galea are both excellent playwrights and are both cast in this play. I hope that working on it with Chris Cooper will help them improve their writing even further.

What’s next for you?

I hope to do some Shakespeare at some point, and I am preparing to produce a play I wrote.  This is proving my most difficult task yet because I feel that in producing a play I wrote myself I am exposing part of my soul. Still, I feel the play I have (Collapse) is good enough. So I’m hoping to take Unifaun on a new route, whereby I produce a new play and one by myself every year.

The Price of One will be staged at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta on April 8, 9 and 10 at 20:00. Directed by Chris Cooper and written by Edward Bond, its cast includes Malcom Galea, Simone Spiteri, Magda van Kuilenburg and Andre Agius. The play is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Bookings: www.teatrumanoel.com.mt or 2124 6389