The ties that bind | Clive Piscopo

Actor and playwright Clive Piscopo chats about his upcoming production, Fejn Jeħodna R-Riħ, which was dreamt up during a train journey and which tells an intimate story of two brothers negotiating the byways of life

Clive Piscopo
Clive Piscopo

How long has the idea of this play been germinating in your mind, and what led you to finally put it down on paper?

The idea came to me on a train in the summer of 2015. My friends and I had driven from Tuscany to Northern Italy to spend a week with some Italian friends. We were at the last stage of our long journey. Tired as I was, I stared out of the train at the people waiting on the platforms waiting to board our train. Two men caught my attention for the strangest of reasons. The eldest looked in his thirties and the other one was around 18. They were both suited up and carried one luggage each. To while away the time, I tried to imagine their story: who were they? Where were they from and where are they going next? And what if the contents of those luggages were not what you would normally expect? What if the contents of those two luggages had kept the two men alive and together. My play Fejn Jeħodna R-Riħ (Where the Wind Takes Us) is how I imagined their story. 

It took me two years and a half to get to the final version of the script. I spent a year reading and researching all sorts of things I thought would be relevant to the story. Then I spent a year plotting and writing and this was followed by three months of workshopping. People like Professor of Contemporary Literature Ivan Callus, writers like Trevor Zahra and Simon Bartolo, theatre practictioners like Sean Buhagiar, Lee-N Abela and other actors were involved in helping me hone the script.

The play hinges on two brothers travelling the world – how does this wandering scope tally with the realities and formal limitations of a stage play?

Fejn Jeħodna R-Riħ actually starts with the brothers arriving in Malta. But yes, the travelling motif is central to the story and director Lee-N Abela was very adamant in exploring that aspect dynamically on stage. What really helped was the fact that I crafted the story with St James Cavalier’s theatre-in-the-round in mind. Another advantage was the fact that both Lee-N and myself have acted previously in that space so we have a very clear idea of the ins and outs of that theatre. On the other hand, important discussions with set designer Adrian Mamo were held before we actually started rehearsing in order to come up with a visually striking experience for the audience.

Nichail Portelli and Clive Piscopo in Fejn Jehodna r-Rih
Nichail Portelli and Clive Piscopo in Fejn Jehodna r-Rih

The play also appears to tap into the dynamic of a double act. What are the advantages of such a setup, and how are you using it for your own dramatic and thematic ends?

Having produced and performed in Simon Bartolo’s  two hander Tikber U Tinsa at St James Cavalier in 2015, I know quite well the beauty and challenges of a double act. Fejn Jeħodna R-Riħ does tap into that dynamic and during rehearsals we have already experienced the beautiful intimacy and raw emotions of two characters on a bare stage. Yet Fejn Jeħodna R-Riħ is not a double act. The act actually comprises 14 actors. So while the two brothers are the pivot on which the story revolves, I have pitted their relationship against other characters. And from what I am seeing in rehearsals, I think we may be on to something really special. 

What does the play set out to express about contemporary Malta, and in what way?

I cannot reveal that much. But the decision to set the story of the two brothers in Malta was perhaps the most important decision I took after I came up with the idea of the two siblings. Once I decided that they were coming to Malta – specifically Malta in 2017 – the story shook and fell into place. So we will be definitely seeing recognisable local colour. In particular, I think the play will explore contemporary Malta in the light of ties that have always bound us together, but perhaps not anymore.

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

I think the local theatrical scene is thriving and buzzing with new energies, new talent, and the emergence of small but incredibly valid groups whose work is a breath of fresh air. I admire these artists’ guts as I know on a first hand basis how tough it can be to experiment, break new ground, and attract an audience. 

What’s next for you?

Definitely a break. On the one hand, I have been approached for three theatre productions for the next theatre season and I do have an idea for a new story I might want to write in the next two years. But given all this, I have to be honest and admit that I’ve spent the past year and half working unhealthy hours in order to finance Fejn Jeħodna R-Riħ to the best of my abilities. So, while I wish to go for the new projects, right now I really do think I need a break. I need to recharge, unwind, and catch up on life. And when the time comes, I want to come back as a better artist.

Fejn Jehodna R-Rih will be staged at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta tonight and on April 27-30 at 20:00. The play is written by Clive Piscopo and directed by Lee-N Abela. The rest of the cast includes Peter Galea, Eric Grech, Louise Fenech u Nichail Portelli, Keith Marshall, Gilbert Mallia, Chris Camilleri, Shana Kirsty Atkins, John Vassallo and Amanda Sammut Cachia. 


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