The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

Marlowe’s Malta

Sunday, 9 September 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Here Iggy Fenech chats to MIKHAIL BASMADIJAN, who is about to take on the iconic role of Barabas in MADC and Teatru Manoel’s exciting adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s ‘The Jew of Malta’

Religious conflict, revenge, intrigue... These words could easily describe the first Elizabethan Era of England, which lasted from Queen Elizabeth I's ascension to the throne in 1558 until her death in 1603. That era, however, was also one of great expansion both literally and figuratively for the English empire, particularly culturally.

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) was part of that renaissance of English culture, which is why those three adjectives could also describe his best-known and -loved plays: The Jew of Malta.

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"In his play, Marlowe asks us to imagine that the Great Siege of Malta did not happen and that, instead, a political agreement had been reached whereby the Turks promised to stay away if Malta paid a tax...," Mikhail explains. "10 years after the agreement, Malta has not yet paid up and the amount has grown to such a sum that the island cannot possibly afford to pay. So, the Turks come back and demand money, or else they will take over the islands."

It's at that point that the then-Spanish Grandmaster has his eureka moment in which every Jew living on the islands is made to forfeit half their wealth. Barabas, however, the wealthiest Jew on the land, is hit hardest when all his wealth and possessions are taken away.

"The Jew is made a scapegoat and Barabas realises that, although he has been living on the island and allowed to trade and accumulate wealth, he is still considered an outsider," Mikhail continues. "This sends him into a mad frenzy and he embarks on a path of full-blown cruel revenge, which knows no mercy and spares no one. I dare not draw any parallels with what is currently happening in local and international politics, but I think the audience will be able to pick out many such moments for themselves..."

While for Malta, the play holds a deep connection, the play's tackling of universal themes has ensured its success and acclaim since it was first staged in late 16th century England. Its slapstick comedy, coupled with bloody violence, makes it a rollercoaster that is worth the ride.

"I think any actor would dream of playing Barabas," Mikhail says. "The role is super-dynamic and requires an obscene amount of energy as the play goes from cool and collected, to comic, to devastated, to raving mad, and then to cruel and revengeful. The difficult part is getting the audience to sympathise with Barabas while he is committing a multitude of atrocities against Christians, Turks, Spaniards and even his own family. What drives him to do it?"

Joining Mikhail in this Chris Gatt-directed MADC and Teatru Manoel co-production, will be Naomi Knight, Antony Edridge, Erica Muscat, Edward Thorpe, Philip Leone-Ganado, Nathan Brimmer, Alex Weenink, Joe Depasquale, Maxine Brimmer, Helen Osborne, Joseph Zammit and Daniela Carabott Pawley - all of whom will be performing it in a modern-day setting with plenty of surprises and twists along the way.

The question is, though: Are you ready for the tragi-comedy that turned Malta into a set for murder, betrayal and revenge? There's only one way to find out.

'The Jew of Malta' will be performed at Teatru Manoel on 5, 6, 7 and 12, 13, 14 October. All performances start at 8pm; except for the 6 October (Notte Bianca) performance, which starts at 6pm. Tickets are at €25, €20 and €10; discounted tickets are available for students and senior citizens. Bookings on 2124 6389 or www.teatrumanoel.com. Classification 14+. 'The Jew of Malta' is partly funded by Arts Council Malta - Malta Arts Fund.


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