Edward Mercieca and Chris Gatt talk Panto season

MaltaToday speaks to panto veteran Edward Mercieca and director Chris Gatt on their latest project ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’ 

Edward Mercieca plays bass guitar (left) and Gianni Selvaggi plays Jack and lead guitar (right)
Edward Mercieca plays bass guitar (left) and Gianni Selvaggi plays Jack and lead guitar (right)

Panto season is here, and for the first time, FM Theatre Productions are bringing the tradition to the Teatru Astra in Gozo with ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’ from the 26 to the 30th December.

Promising to delight adults and children alike, the classic tale is infused with the humour and charm that one would expect of a Christmas pantomime, together with the electric excitement of a rock and roll concert.

MaltaToday spoke to panto veteran Edward Mercieca who plays Dame Fażola Bigilla, and director Chris Gatt about what audiences can expect from their production.

Why Jack and the Beanstalk?

EM: Well, it hasn’t been done for some time. As a company, we have never produced it, and It is one of the most popular fairy tales. No brainer.

CG: Well, that is interesting, and it’s a good question. So we got together a whole bunch of economists, sociologists and whoever-we-could-find-ists and asked them what people were talking about most. They said inflation. So obviously, it had to be Jack. After all, the only way is up, right?

Which part of the production do you most look forward to?

EM: The rehearsal process for panto is always great fun, especially with such a great cast. Really and truly, Chiara Hyzler and myself are a director’s nightmare when they throw us in together. Ħafna, ħafna daħk!

CG: That’s simple, the part when I say goodbye to the actors. The evening gets so much better after that.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

EM: Well, the biggest thing is that we, the cast, are the band!! That’s spoilt the surprise now! Hah! It’s going to be a lot of fun for us and for the audience too, of course. There is a huge dose of audience participation too.

CG: Well, the fact that the actors can not only make great fools of themselves, but they can also rock the house down. Under the whip, sorry – I meant the mentoring – of musical director Cathy, this ragtag bunch of performers turn out to be very good musicians and singers. (No credit to me, of course, I can’t sing myself out of a Twistee bag).

Who has the best costume?

EM: Bessie, the cow! Without a doubt – flown in all the way from the UK, she’s adorable.

CG: Me, of course. I can exit the theatre whenever I want, and no one would notice. If that lot tried to leave, they would be arrested on the spot with the costumes we gave them. (It’s the best way to keep them indoors and stopping them scaring the general public).

Let’s talk spoilers. Can you tell us what your favourite scene in the show is?

EM: The slapstick scenes. In other words, the physical theatre scenes. Of which there are a few. GIANT kitchen utensils which are used as weapons, funny walks, chases around the theatre (and the Astra is no small space, and I ain’t no spring chicken no more!).

CG: No spoilers there: a full house, the best scene in the show.  That and the whole of Gozo at Christmas time. Gozo really knows how to get festive and seriously, if you have never been,  get over there now; it really is a thing of beauty.

What is your best advice for newbie actors wanting to join the panto scene in Malta?

EM: Just turn up for auditions when there’s the call and just enjoy yourself. Simples.

CG: Run. Seriously run. If you appreciate your sanity, run away. If, on the other hand, like us, you think life has become too serious, too mundane, too boring, then stick on some skates and run for it, embrace the madness. One thing’s for sure, it will be a very bumpy ride!

How did you come to create your dame?

EM: Well, I drew a lot from various Brit comedians like Les Dawson and Ronnies Barker and Corbet. I always have the same makeup, which is the icing on the dame. All these things, together with a huge dose of Edward Mercieca’s alter ego!

How do you, as a director, plan to leave your mark on this year's panto?

CG: Signing panto programs at the door for 1 euro a pop (a boy’s gotta eat). That and has become traditional in theatre these days, forcing audiences to stay after the show for a five-hour solo Q&A, including a solo performance of the whole of Gotterdamerug sung in old German.