Sigmund Freud’s socks would have rolled up and down with sheer delight had he been fortunate enough to be in the audience for Hush, a  new musical by Denise Mulholland and Luke Saydon.

A young boy, Gus loses his voice after his mother’s death and his father, a distant, stern figure retards the lad’s emotional development by banning music from their lives – hush!

There is enough substance in Hush  to have made a straight play. There is no sense of the musical score propping up the words or the libretto poking fun at the sheer daftness of the entire enterprise. In Hush we have a production that is firing on all cylinders, a big red polished Ferrari of a production. Saydon’s score is a dark, bitter mixture of Jewish Klezmer melodies and stark, edgy minor-chords. The music by turns unsettles and then bursts forth in a torrent of black-keyed mischief and arch commentary on the stage-action. There is one gloriously clever moment when the Confutatis from Mozart’s Requiem is quoted by the orchestra only for the cast to continue singing the words to the tune of Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King; the two tunes bashing each other like great stone giants – like the monoliths of Western culture they are.

The music is loud, infectious and boy does it ever propel the drama forward. Saydon’s music and lyrics are a demonic delight, so blissfully far away from the sticky, crass sentimentality of the Disney factory.

American audiences wouldn’t get this show. It is European cynicism to its boots and – hold that front page and pour me a stiff drink – it is Maltese! My prediction is that these youngsters are going to hold on to their crown for the rest of the year. 

The Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre production is part of Toi Toi, that vibrant collaboration between Mulholland and Rosetta Debattista, and it has laid down the gauntlet with some style in this much-anticipated year of culture.

The cast certainly earn their bread in this show. They are constantly moving, commenting, animating objects, creating theatrical illusions, singing, dancing – and, it is clear to each member of the audience, enjoying every single second of this production.  They resemble the workings of an old analogue watch – small cogs interacting with larger ones, wheels continually moving so that any missed cue would stand out like a sore-thumb – the ignominy of dropping a beat in this musical, you’d have to move to Gozo! Yet, there weren’t any missed cues. No notes went sharp or flat. This machine was oiled and ready to go, poised to perform this tremendously difficult piece written just for them.

There is a joy in watching youngsters perform. They don’t hold back, they haven’t yet developed the lazy habits of some professional actors, their spirit is often infectious, inspired by what the writer Roland Barthes would call jouissance.

Yet, youngsters sometimes are less precise. Not in Hush. This ensemble deserve a collective medal for their accomplishment. Mulholland has obviously had a ball with this lot, the sheer creativity of the youngsters’ response to her direction is astonishing.

The glee with which the ensemble reveal little tricks and delights on the stage – the prolonged silent interlude for example –  is all about a cast working their socks off.

There is a school of thought that says: “Oh the hell with it, that’ll do” – I’ve seen this many times over the past year. A director just gives up, and the result is always sedentary and dull. Then, there is the other school that says “Do it again, work harder!” and that is where the best results are found.

I could not pick out any single member of the ensemble as being better than another and that is as it should be. Like the orchestra, they were perfectly in tune and they played opposite each other with sensitivity and true accord – and I hope they remember this experience for the rest of their lives.

The main parts in the story were performed with similar energy and commitment. The best of these characters, as Mulholland and Saydon have written them so far, being Clementine Pickles, the owner of a music-shop that is sometimes there and sometimes not. No less committed to standards of excellence were Gus’s father – who also played the devilish Maestro – and, of course, the very young lad who played the part of Gus without ever resorting to gluey schmaltziness.

Romualdo Moretti’s set is all function, but not at the expense of aesthetic achievement. It’s great to see a cast clambering over, upon and around a set that is designed and built with them in mind. Too often, a set is so beautiful yet so unresponsive to performers, that it might have ‘Keep Off The Grass’ written on it. Late Interactive’s lighting design also serves the production, yet is inventive and ingenious, the second such example I have seen of their talented work.

Oh people of Malta, only three performances of this show is a crime! Take to the streets, call your MP and get this production back. Take it abroad and tell everyone, the Maltese are coming – Hush!

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