The fluid, violent stream of life | Adrian Buckle

Teodor Reljic speaks to Unifaun Theatre founder Adrian Buckle about the company’s upcoming production Metamorfosi – which adapts Ovid’s classic long poem through a Maltese-language script co-written by Trevor Zahra, and which promises to be the ‘most ambitious’ project Unifaun have ever undertaken

Adrian Buckle
Adrian Buckle

What was the main reason you wanted to adapt Ovid’s Metamorphoses for the stage, and why did you opt for a Maltese adaptation?

I love Greek Mythology.  I remember when I was at Sixth Form in 1988, I was first exposed to the Greek World through Systems of Knowledge, when we had to study The Odyssey by Homer.  I remember reading the book and then moving on to read The Iliad, and The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. I just loved them. 

Ever since involving myself in theatre I have read most Greek plays by Sophocles and Euripedes. In 2011, during my stint as MADC Artistic Director, we produced The Bacchae, which I am very proud of and which I consider one of the best productions I was involved in, and I sometimes regret not having produced it under the Unifaun banner. But then, it was my job to give MADC the best ideas and that is exactly what I did. Immersing myself so deeply into the Greek world of course led me to choose my favourite gods and goddesses. I really love stories about Apollo and Athena, whom I consider my favourite gods. I was particularly taken in by the character of Apollo in particular. 

Jamie Cardona (top right), Michela Farrugia, Magda van Kuilenburg and Sarah Amato
Jamie Cardona (top right), Michela Farrugia, Magda van Kuilenburg and Sarah Amato

So, after looking for more stories on this particular god, I came across Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I read it and immediately realised this book would make a great theatre piece. I started adapting it and realised that it would make a better production if it were performed in Maltese. I finished the adaptation and gave it to my friend Trevor Zahra, whom I consider to be the best Maltese writer of all time. He accepted to translate the play and adapt it.  I wanted Trevor to do some adaptation as well as the translation, and he was delighted to do so. I think Greek theatre works better in Maltese. Maybe it is because we are Mediterranean, maybe the fact that Maltese is a Mediterranean language brings out the nuances of the Greek drama and subtexts better.

Though it certainly enjoys the reputation due to it as a text from the Classical corpus of Ancient Rome, Ovid’s long poem is also very visceral, and often merciless. Do you find these qualities to be a good fit for Unifaun in particular?  

The main character in the play, aside from Apollo is Cupid (Eros). Cupid is the one who ties the stories together. The centre of the play is love in all its forms, colours and shapes. There is passionate love, family love, rape, incest, platonic love . . . you name it, you got it. However, in most cases it is unrequited love and most stories end in tragedy  (not all of them, though!) 

Cupid is usually seen as a mischievous cherub, but here he is nasty, he is malicious, he is a rapist – he is vindictive. And this sets the tone for the 17 stories we have chosen.  Some are well known – Arachne, Apollo and Daphne, Icarus – but some are less known, like The Marriage of Perseus, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, Tereus and Procne. The stories are graphic and visceral, they are stories that could easily occur in present day. – well, minus the actual metamorphoses, perhaps – but yes, they do reflect society.  And Unifaun has always been about producing quality theatre. This is by far the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken.

What is exciting you the most as you set about staging this production?  

First thing that inspired me when writing this adaptation was the idea of fluidity.  We live on an island, we are surrounded by water, and yet water hardly ever features on our stage. Metamorphosis is a fluid phenomenon, as is water. So, most of the action occurs in a pool. The set is a large swimming pool with a small acting area around it.  Most of the action takes place in the water.  I am excited to see how this will work out.  I later discovered that another adaptation of Metamorphoses was created around water.  In fact, the Mary Zimmerman adaptation is written around a swimming pool too.  I thought this might therefore be a good idea. Obviously, our production is different.  The stories are different. Our set was designed by Romualdo Moretti – who always designs our sets. Another thing I agreed with co-directors Stephen Oliver and Dominic Said was that we should audition for the cast. And auditions brought along some fantastic and talented new faces who are giving rehearsals their all.

The cast features Jamie Cardona as Cupid, then Clayton Mallia, Clint Chircop, Karl Schembri, Ryan Cutajar, Stephen Mintoff, Magda van Kuilenburg, Sarah Amato, Lydia Portelli, Julia Camilleri and Michela Farrugia. 

We will also be having live original music composed by Mario Sammut and Francesco Sultana.  Obviously, such a production requires a competent organiser and we have that in Cathy Lawlor. Nicole Cuschieri on the other hand is taking care of props and costumes. So we have a great team.  The Arts Council and Malta International Arts Festival have supported us too, and so everything is in place for a great show.  This is definitely a spectacle unlike any other and absolutely the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken.

Metamorfosi will be staged at Fort St Elmo, Valletta on July 10 and 11. The production forms part of the Malta International Arts Festival. Bookings: