The Malta Independent 16 November 2018, Friday

Boulevard

Tuesday, 4 September 2018, 08:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

This year for the 25th anniversary since the death of the literary giant Francis Ebejer, Teatru Malta, in co-production with Teatru Manoel, will be bringing back a fresh adaptation of Ebejer’s modern classic, BOULEVARD which will premiere this Thursday 6 September and run until 9 September, at the Manoel Theatre, under the direction of Toni Attard with choreography by Paolo Mangiola in collaboration with ZfinMalta. Boulevard’s Antonella Axisa and Thomas Camilleri tell us more about their characters, the show and this ‘’absurd’’ experience.

Describe Francis Ebejer's Boulevard.

T: Boulevard represents everyone's life and their relationship with it vis-a-vis trying to make sense of it all. In many interviews with friends and peers of Francis Ebejer I was struck by two aspects of the author in particular - his intelligence and also his sadness. It seems as though throughout his life he was at odds with trying to make sense of it all whilst also coming to terms with the futility of trying to understand things beyond our control.

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We're all on the same Boulevard, but we're all on different journeys.

A: For me, Boulevard is an absurdist play about a group of people trying to escape their own lives but never managing to do anything concrete about the things they want to run away from and ending up caught up in this sort of loop. This gives them a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and self-pity.

All this emerges through a thick layer of absurd and sometimes incomprehensible text which at first seems impenetrable. It is only upon multiple readings of the play that meaning starts to emerge, and through the work of director Toni Attard, choreographer Paolo Mangiola and us performers’ own readings of the play, we’re trying to convey the philosophical themes he touches upon, but in a physical way that communicates feelings rather than specific thoughts. Audiences will be able to take away what touches them closer at heart, and this will be different for everyone.

How would you describe your character?

T: Gregorex tends to be quite serious and melancholy. He understands that a lot that we're dealing with is beyond our control but, being the eternal philosopher, he enjoys engaging in discussions to try and further our collective knowledge about life.

A: Martiża likes to dress nicely and take walks on the Boulevard with her soft toy dog Topaz, which she’s completely obsessed about. Topaz, the pink poodle is a replacement for the lack of love in Martiża’s life, and he becomes the embodiment of all her failures, losses and broken hearts. For me it was very moving to peel off the layers of Ebejer’s heavily deconstructed text to find a broken heart that’s been left to deal with life on the Boulevard with only her dog as companion.

Little windows of reality and relatability into these absurd characters’ lives will give audiences a break from the bigger philosophical questions that the play addresses, and might also be giving us a glimpse into life in 1964. Closely-connected to her obsession with the dog Topaz, is the metaphor of the desert that symbolizes Martiża’s broken heart and loneliness throughout the play.  But Martiża also has a funny side which, like for the rest of the characters, comes across through the absurd text and the apparent inconsistencies and opposites in anything that comes out of their mouths.

Working with a director and a choreographer on a devised piece such as this must have been challenging for classically trained actors such as yourselves; describe the process.

T: It's been as wonderful as it's been frustrating. I miss dancing and working with ŻfinMalta and Paolo has been a welcome re-exploration of a theatrical aspect I miss. It's also been frustrating for me because, like most actors who often work in theatre, it's been challenging to just go with the flow of a non-linear narrative without having to understand every aspect. I suppose it comes from the years of drilling from acting tutors who insisted that one should never be spouting lines onstage without knowing exactly what you're saying whereas there are parts of Boulevard which are meant to be open-ended with regards to interpretation which makes it all the more interesting for the audience because everyone takes something different from the same show.

A: The process started back in May when we spent a whole  month working on the piece. It was very tough at first to find a common language for theatre-trained people like director Toni Attard and us four actors (Aaron Fenech, Stephen Mintoff and Thomas Camilleri) and the choreographer of ŻfinMalta Paolo Mangiola and his dancers. We experimented a lot, played around with movement, with pieces of text and ultimately with how to join these two elements together without losing any intensity. By the end of it we had a mixture of physicality and text that blurred the boundaries between dancers and actors, which was what we were aiming for.

During my long years with the experimental theatre group Aleateia, which director Toni Attard also formed part of, we focused a lot on physical training and movement, so we already spoke a common language that came back to us instantly during rehearsals. I must say I just loved the whole process of creating movement sequences from scratch with Paolo Mangiola, pushing my limits, working with the super-talented dancers, and seeing the movements become fantastic ensemble pieces thanks to the great work of both Toni and Paolo.

Why is Boulevard a play which premiered in 1964 still very relevant today?

T: Some of the themes are remarkably relevant such as a moment in the beginning when news is being spread throughout the Boulevard and everyone is rejoicing without knowing what this news really is - a mixture of gossip and fake news - a theme we've sadly grown accustomed to seeing as part of our lives. To me it's also striking because, particularly today in Malta, I see so many people living as if they're going to live forever and as if their life is the be-all and end-all. So many people don't seem to realise how insignificant our life is within the greater scheme of things. I'm referring to the unbridled and insensitive overdevelopment and mistreatment of our natural and built-up environments.

A:The play deals with universal themes like change, religion, belonging, longing and emigration, which are still very valid today. The text has a musicality and rhythm to it that makes it adaptable across all eras. The characters themselves are individuals whose humanity is timeless, and everyone will empathise with their sense of ‘What are we doing here? Is this the life we wanted for ourselves? Can we escape it? Are we trapped in it forever? Is death the only solution to this?’. They are all dreaming of a better life, aspiring for something above the domesticity, repetitiveness of everyday chores, and are ultimately just trying to drastically change their insignificantly mundane lives.

Having said all this, Boulevard was written in 1964 and lasted around three hours, which is quite unheard of today in the age of technologically induced short attention spans. This version of ‘Boulevard’ will be a very contemporary take on what’s considered a classic, and I hope audiences will enjoy it as much as us performers are!

Francis Ebejer’s Boulevard will run at the Manoel Theatre between the 6th and 9th of September. For more information visit www.teatrumalta.org.mt or www.teatrumanoel.com.mt and book your tickets.


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