Laughing at human complexity | Chris Dingli

Versatile comic actor Christopher Dingli will soon be uttering the classic Shakespearean monologue on how ‘all the world’s a stage’ at San Anton Gardens, as he takes on the role of Jaques in As You Like It – this year’s ‘Summer Shakespeare’ offering by the MADC. He speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about diving into the Bard’s work once again

Christopher Dingli as Jaques in As You Like It: “The approach in rehearsal is playful and engaging, and some really great work is coming out of that”
Christopher Dingli as Jaques in As You Like It: “The approach in rehearsal is playful and engaging, and some really great work is coming out of that”

First of all, as one of our most energetic and versatile actors – could you give us a recap on what you’ve been up to so far? What were some of the most recent milestones you could mention, and how was it like to expand your career beyond our shores?

It has been a busy first half of 2018, working mostly behind the scenes, laying the groundwork for what’s to come. This includes taking my one-man show ‘Bad Dad’ to North America, working on some new writing, and adapting an existing script of mine for a production next year. I have also recently wrapped up post-production on a short comedy film that I wrote and produced. We’re submitting it to festivals and it will premiere in August at a festival in Oregon in the USA. My focus has been mainly outside our shores, not just across the pond, but also in the UK. I perform and co-produce with Steve Hili a comedy called ‘How to be a Londoner in an Hour’. We performed the show in London as a work-in-progress a couple of months ago, and will perform it again at the Camden Fringe Festival this summer.

The ‘Summer Shakespeare’ production at San Anton is something of a local theatrical institution. How does it feel to be a part of it?

I’m thrilled to be returning to perform at San Anton after an absence of 14 years! Performing in the MADC Shakespeare is such a unique experience. The venue is one of my all-time favourites. There’s something magical about it that’s hard to describe. My first Shakespeare with the MADC was a one-line part in Hamlet, in the late 90s. I remember it like it was yesterday, seeing Jes Camilleri in the title role and thinking “I’d really like to be as good as him someday”. It was very inspirational for me as a young actor, just starting out. I’ve since performed Shakespeare across the UK, including at Kensington Palace Gardens, but performing at San Anton remains a highlight.

How did it feel to be brought on board for this particular production, and what do you make of the rest of your cast, and Philip Leone-Ganado’s directorial approach?

I’m very glad they asked me to be a part of it! I think the cast is fantastic. The company works well and the chemistry between the actors is dynamic. I think that’s important, especially in a play like this. The approach in rehearsal is playful and engaging, and some really great work is coming out of that. I’m glad to be finally working with Philip as a director. I’m a fan of his work with Shakespeare at The Pub, and I’m delighted to discover that he’s my kind of director – collaborative, informed and inventive.

Jonathan Dunn, Christopher Dingli and Stephen Oliver in MADC’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Philip Leone-Ganado
Jonathan Dunn, Christopher Dingli and Stephen Oliver in MADC’s production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Philip Leone-Ganado

As someone known for their dynamic, brash approach to on-stage comedy, what’s it like to redirect those energies into the doggedly contemplative character of Jaques?

I’ll admit this is a departure from my on-stage persona that Maltese audiences are used to seeing, however it is more closely linked with my background and training. I’ve spent over a decade in the UK where I toured in various Shakespeare productions playing characters that were neither brash, nor loud. At the end of the day, acting is acting as long as it’s truthful. The trick in this case, is to find what Jaques’ melancholy is about. As always with Shakespeare, this is not a simple answer and the reasons are varied, nuanced and deeply rooted in human complexity. The challenge is being truthful to all of that. The rest is just technique.

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

It’s an interesting time for the local theatre scene. Audiences are exposed to more productions than ever before. This is a double-edged sword. It means that there is more theatre being produced, however, it doesn’t seem to me that audience numbers are increasing significantly. In the same way that internationally, there are now so many TV series that it has become impossible to watch them all, it has become pretty much impossible to see everything on offer in the local scene. The size of the pie has remained the same, but there are more slices being cut out of it. Therefore audiences (with a few exceptions) have become more diluted.

New audiences need to be nurtured and new markets need to be found. I believe the former is being addressed somewhat, with productions being taken to schools and with the introduction of incentives such as the Culture Pass, among other things. The latter is still in its infancy. There exist a small number of performers, including myself, who are focused on taking their work to new markets overseas, by tapping into available funds and opportunities. It will be interesting to see how or if things change when Valletta 2018 is over.

I’d like to see a change in attitude towards actors. I’m talking less about theatre here and more about the broadcasting side of the industry. Malta now has a full-time, albeit small, professional performing arts industry. To progress further, we need somebody to watch over performers’ interests. Many performers are taken for a ride, especially when it comes to payment (please note, I’m not referring to any specific production or company here). I understand that budgets can be lower in Malta than most other countries, but wages and conditions are still abysmal and do not proportionately reflect these lower rates. I think this is happening because there is still too much of a blurred line between those that do this professionally and those that are weekend hobbyists. There’s nothing wrong with either, but like a musician, dancer or singer, the person who has dedicated their life to training and perfecting their craft deserves to be paid fairly for their work.

What’s next for you?

I’m obviously focusing on Shakespeare right now. After that, I’m off to London for a run of How to Be a Londoner in an Hour. Then it’s North America with Bad Dad, and back in time for Christmas and The Comedy Knights!

An MADC production, As You Like It is directed by Philip Leone-Ganado, and will be staged at San Anton Gardens, Attard from July 13-22 at 20:30; there will be no show on July 15. The rest of the cast includes: Roberta Cefai, Gianni Selvaggi, Steffi Thake, Stephen Oliver, Jonathan Dunn, Chiara Hyzler, Michael Mangion, Rambert Attard, Maxine Brimmer, Joe Depasquale, Becky D’Ugo and Daniel Formosa.

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