‘Theatre should disturb’ | Adrian Buckle

Adrian Buckle of Unifaun Theatre is making his debut as a playwright. He talks about making this important leap, and how Unifaun’s backlog of theatrical experiences and collaborations has helped him shape this discomfiting take on young romantic love

Adrian Buckle: “If you don’t like my theatre, blame Edward Bond”
Adrian Buckle: “If you don’t like my theatre, blame Edward Bond”

One of Malta’s most prolific theatre producers – Adrian Buckle of Unifaun Theatre – is making his debut as a playwright with the hard-hitting drama Unintended, to be staged at St James Cavalier early next month. He speaks to Teodor Reljic about making this important leap, and how Unifaun’s backlog of theatrical experiences and collaborations has helped him shape this discomfiting take on young romantic love

How long has this play been brewing, and what were its roots?  

I’ve been writing plays on my own for some time now. A play that I will be producing next year – called Collapse – took me a span of some six years to write. Unintended, on the other hand, came to me at one go over the summer. 

The inspiration was a one act amateur play I had read where the situation of Unintended was presented but never fully reached its potential. I believe that theatre should disturb. I feel that theatre should have something to say, without being preachy. That is what art is.  Some of my colleagues prefer to play it safe and go for what they believe the public wants.  But a big section of the public wants pornography. So, do we give them pornography instead of art? Some of my colleagues say that comedies are entertaining. So is pornography. I founded Unifaun with the aim of creating art through theatre. 

Sometimes I find myself being the only one to take risks. But that’s okay. Because people know what to expect from me. I am not dissing my colleagues who prefer to do comedies. I think that comedy is a wonderful medium and very challenging in itself and those doing good comedy deserve respect. It is just not for me. I want my theatre to mean something.  Some weeks ago, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was murdered at an art exhibition.  Videos of the actual murder went viral. How could we do that? How could we like and share the video of a murder? This was no Hollywood act; this was an actual murder. I feel that the web has desensitised us. So now we need extreme experiences to get in touch again with our humanity. This is what spurred me to write Unintended.

What led you to make the jump from producer to playwright-producer with this particular play?  

I have been producing plays since 2005. I have come to a point where I want to be more creative with my work. I want to create. Create! So, I am now trying to pen the many ideas that swarm in my head or commission others to write for me. Unintended will be my first experience with this kind of thing.

Mikhail Basmadjan and Stephen Mintoff in Unintended
Mikhail Basmadjan and Stephen Mintoff in Unintended

What has the process of writing it been like, and did you draw a lot from your experience as Unifaun’s founder and producer of most of its plays for inspiration?  

I can’t deny that writers like Edward Bond, Philip Ridley, Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and Anthony Neilson had a huge effect of me. Edward Bond has been a particular inspiration. I would say that I do the theatre I do only because of Edward Bond. So, if you don’t like my theatre, blame him. 

I remember in 2001, he was invited to Malta to lead some workshops.  All his workshops circled around the human experience of pain. Somehow this struck a chord with me. This was living theatre. This was theatre that set my soul on fire.  I tried to direct some of his plays with another theatre company but his writing was not in their style. 

So I ended up producing the plays I did. And quickly gave up on the idea of directing, preferring to leave this in the more capable hands of people like Chris Gatt and Marcelle Teuma. 

What was writing Unintended like? It came to me easily. I found myself writing plots I had not planned. It all took a life of its own. Then, director Stephen Oliver suggested some changes, and actor Mikhail Basmadjian gave some very useful advice too. I got help from other friends to whom I had entrusted the script, namely my wife Sarah, Dominic Said and Stefan Scerri. Their advice and feedback was invaluable.

In fact, the play appears to be firmly set in the dark in-yer-face theatre tradition which has become Unifaun Theatre’s stock in trade. What keeps drawing you back to this genre, and do you ever worry that audiences will begin to pigeonhole Unifaun because of this?  

No matter what I do, I will be pigeonholed. Being one of the first producers to bring full frontal nudity on stage, people always ask me who will be naked in my next play. Now, I have produced over 30 plays and only three or four had any nudity. But that’s the way it is.  The Stitching experience also didn’t help. We may have got what we fought for, but I am somehow pigeonholed as this monster whose theatre will result in you going to hell. So be it. If that is the situation, I want to do theatre I believe in. After all, no matter what I do, I will be pigeonholed. Apart from that, when I choose a play, my main motivation is whether I want to see it staged, not the general public. It depends on what I want. I am my first audience. Sometimes I don’t sell, but that is my business. However, I also have to say that I have a dedicated audience who always turns up for my shows, knowing what to expect. I am forever thankful to them for sharing the experience.

What’s next for you? 

Next will be a Trevor Zahra play called Il-Kavallier John Giordimaina O.S.C.I., which is obviously a comedy. This will be in March this year, shortly after Unintended. Then in July we are staging an open air production of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Maltese for the Malta Arts Festival, where the set will be a huge swimming pool, because, you know, why keep things simple? Then there a new play by Clare Azzopardi in October, hopefully a Ziguzajg production and then Macbeth in December. 

Yes, 2017 is quite busy.

Unintended will be staged at the theatre in the round at Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier, Valletta on February 4-9, 10-12 and 16-19. All shows start at 20:00. The play is directed by Stephen Oliver and the cast includes Mikhail Basmadjan, Joyia Fitch, Stephen Mintoff, Mariele Zammit. Bookings: http://www.kreattivita.org/, 2122 3200