Life, love and everything in between

TNT Productions return to the stage with another bout of marital neuroses… only this time, it’s doubled, as two couples come head-to-head during a dinner party in The Opposite Sex. Written by David Tristram, the play is directed by Herman Grech, who speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about the attraction to this type of comedy, along with actress Denise Mulholland

The dinner party is a well-worn dramatic trope. What do you think makes it so appealing a set-up for the stage, and how does this particular play exploit it?

Herman Grech: Yes, the dinner party setting is rather common in British comedy. I guess many playwrights resort to it because it provides a combination of food, drink, gadgets and all that comes in between –all of which comes in rather handy in comedy. We’re bound to let our hair down and discuss the more important and less trivial things in life around a dinner table. And Tristram does this to hilarious effect.

Denise Mulholland: I suppose the dinner party set-up is an obvious choice for so many productions because it is an environment that pretty much everyone can relate to. We have all been to those awkward, uncomfortable dinner parties where, despite the host’s best intentions, the company simply doesn’t ‘gel’!

I think audiences always react well to an environment that they are familiar with and this play takes the idea of the dinner-party-from-hell to a new level! The four characters in the play get far more than they bargained for when they organise an impromptu dinner party as skeleton after skeleton get pulled from their respective cupboards. We are all trapped in this awful environment and working in the round at St James makes the whole thing feel even more ‘claustrophobic’. ‘No Exit’ for the middle-classes...

Did you wait for the divorce debate to come to a fever pitch before beginning rehearsals, or does was the context a fortunate (or unfortunate, as the case may be) consequence? And more importantly, how do you think it will affect our enjoyment of the play, if at all?

Grech: The timing with the divorce referendum is merely incidental, though a particularly wonderful speech from a marriage guidance counsellor at one point of the play is bound to draw plenty of laughs, considering the ludicrousness of the divorce debate in Malta.

There seems to be a consistent demand for what I like to call ‘middle class comedy’ in Malta: plays by – mostly – contemporary British playwrights that centre around financially comfortable characters with light, occasional neuroses. Why do you think such plays attract wide audiences, and appear to have drawn in the crowds in Malta in particular?

Grech: I believe the vast majority of theatre-goers, especially the ones who attend St James Cavalier, are middle class people who love a good night out – and it’s quite evident that they would associate with the characters in the play, even though I wouldn’t really think most of the audiences would draw parallels with the characters in The Opposite Sex. Bottom line is theatre-lovers love the occasional intelligent comedy, as proven by the many who recently watched Theatre Anon’s Immaculate.

Mulholland: This play is exactly what you would expect from this genre – it’s a very fast-paced, very funny comedy. There does seem to be a huge demand for comedy at the moment, but I don’t think that is restricted to Malta – I think people want some level of escapism, to come out for an evening and have a bloody good laugh. While I would always encourage people to attend as much and as varied theatre as possible, there is no denying that comedy is attracting audiences at the moment.

How would you describe the dynamic between the two couples, and how have the actors fit into them?

Grech: Most people think comedy is easy to stage. There is nothing worse than badly-staged comedy, which risks turning into a tragedy. This is the kind of play where the actors need to play off each other, where all four needed to have impeccable comic timing and diction. I have to admit that with actors like Denise Mulholland, Alan Montanaro, Rowena Grima and Malcolm Galea, the director’s job is so much easier.

Mulholland: Oh there is a huge amount of tension between EVERYONE in this play! The character I play, Vicky, is married to high-flying executive Mark and their relationship is built on relatively good-natured point-scoring and one-upmanship! The other couple, Judith and Eric, are in a very different place. Eric is a bombastic mini-dictator who has reduced his wife to a mere shadow of her former self.

As their secrets are revealed, Mark and Vicky work towards a hopefully more honest relationship and Judith is the proverbial worm who turns, teaching Eric a lesson he won’t forget in a hurry. I have been ‘married’ to Montanaro several times now and I think we have a good rhythm together on stage – we are used to each other’s style of acting and the roles of Vicky and Mark suit our own styles of humour. From my point of view, Vicky is a bit of a control-freak and not the easiest woman to live with, and that is not particularly far from my own character!

Grima plays the down-trodden Judith to perfection, she is such a natural comedienne with a real ability to bring out the heart in the character. Galea couldn’t be further away from the tyrannical Eric, but he has really managed to connect with this unappealing character and even manages to make you feel a tiny bit sorry for him!

Without doubt, the hardest challenge in rehearsals is keeping a straight face- thankfully we have the strong direction of Herman Grech to help get us all back on track.

The play will run at St James Cavalier on May 13-15; 20-22. Tickets at €15 (€12 on opening night) can be booked from or by calling 21223200.