‘That could be me’ | The Crucible

Director Sean Buhagiar speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about facing one of the biggest challenges of his career so far – directing a large-scale production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Manoel Theatre – that classic of modern drama which uses the Salem witch hunts to explore enduring social ills

The Crucible is an iconic and challenging play, so all eyes will be on you when it comes to this production. How do you hope to deliver an adequate and relevant iteration of Miller’s play to Maltese audiences?

That is a question that puts even more pressure, doesn’t it? Teatru Manoel have presented this as their most anticipated production of the season. I think there are several reasons for this. The Crucible is a monumental piece of theatre and it has never been performed at the Manoel Theatre. The Manoel Theatre itself is producing it and there is a great team behind it. Now as for the how to deal with it, I would say by putting together a talented team of collaborators. This is my favourite approach – having brilliantly gifted people who have proven their worth that come together for collaborative theatre-making.

I am honoured to work with people like Austin Camilleri, Sef Farrugia, Yasmin Kuymizakis, Moritz Zavan, Nicole Bugeja and so forth. And I haven’t even started mentioning the cast, have I? We have put together an impressive mix of local and international talent which I am very proud of. I am actually humbled to have theatre stalwarts or accomplished youngsters for every part and bit part. This was imperative in a play like this. I insisted with the producers that I would only accept directing it now, if we had the right cast to join the witch hunt. The Crucible is one of, if not my favourite play. I fell in love with it when I first studied it. I, and the rest of the team, hope to deliver a memorable and fitting production of it, not only an adequate one. But that’s up to those watching to judge.

We often speak about the “enduring relevance” of classic plays, and The Crucible’s relevance is all but baked in – the context of witchcraft and persecution was a clear allegory for McCarthyism when the play was first staged. So it’s a play which can be all-too-easily made relevant for any number of social ills. Which aspects of it resonated most strongly with you as a director, and why?

I really do believe in the enduring relevance. If you go out there today and look for the words blame, proof, murder, plot, corruption, fraud, accusers, lies, factions, parties in the press, you would not keep count, would you? Well, these are all words straight out of Miller’s piece and all of them are used more than once. Be it religious extremism, mass hysteria, political agendas, power plays or human guilt, fragility, bigotry, rapacity and radicalism – The Crucible is as relevant as the person watching wants it to be.

It is a personal experience. It speaks of the human condition in society, sometimes a disgusting one, at times a beautiful one. I wanted to bring about this timelessness, the moments of “this could happen anywhere” and “this is happening everywhere”, “I’ve seen this”, “I’ve done this”, “that could be me”.

What do you make of the Manoel Theatre’s drive to stage classic works such as this one, and how do you hope The Crucible will play its part in that overarching initiative?

I think the Maltese islands need to further embrace the classical canon to be truly European and also to build their own. There are no two ways about it, we currently don’t produce enough classics. Be it in their original English or translated to Maltese, these pieces are crucial to understand the richness of our literary and artistic heritage. We can see much further if we stand on the shoulder of giants (Newton said it better).

I love new work and original pieces, as my own theatrical career attests. But I believe these can be put in a context, and get better by comparing to constant productions of theatrical masterpieces, even unconventional adaptations. I think this is necessary for an educated, stronger society. Sometimes we need to look back to move into a better future. I believe the lack of classical theatrical productions actually creates a more insular theatrical ecosystem, one that engages less with audiences. I only hope that this production can do something to help this cause.

Apart from its sociopolitical resonances – and getting into the details of its staging – The Crucible is an ambitious production, with a large cast. What are some of the logistical and financial challenges inherent in a project like this, and how sustainable do you think the staging of productions of this scale would be on the island, taking our cultural infrastructure into account?

First of all, I believe public institutions such as Teatru Manoel have a duty to produce such works. Recently at a local TEDx talk, I argued that just as we take care of our children’s education, our health system and our traditions, it is crucial to have a thriving theatre sector for society’s wellbeing. There are a number of European models that show us the positive effects of this in society.

Producing such works is a public investment if there are the audiences for it. Now if that public investment helps audiences increase – even slowly – I believe it can become sustainable. For example, if the Crucible would run for a whole month – we could have all actors contracted professionally, full-time. However we need to gradually build our audience first, we can only do that by doing our utmost to produce great work and convince them that their time to watch is worth the while, or more worth their while than pizza, or partying (that could always come after). To me, the answer to this question lies in the audience’s discussion, not the infrastructure. That will quickly follow.

 

The Crucible will be staged at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta on May 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 at 20:00. Directed by Sean Buhagiar, with set design by Austin Camilleri and costume design by Sef Farrugia. Cast includes: Kenneth Spiteri, Nadia Vella, Simone Ellul, Stephen Oliver, Edward Caruana Galizia, Michael Mangion, John Marinelli, Hannah Cramer, Marylu Coppini, Narcy Calamatta, Edward Thorpe, Colin Fitz, Isabel Warrington, Nanette Brimmer, Peter Galea, Thomas Camilleri, Gabriela Mendez, Kyra Lautier, Roberta Cefai,  Julia Camilleri, Daniela Carabott Pawley, Rambert Attard, Annelise Abela, Monique Dimech Genuis and Rakelle Portelli. Bookings:  http://www.teatrumanoel.com.mt or  ”[email protected], 2124 6389

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