The Three Sunsets

If there is one thing which unites the entire human race it’s the importance that we give to our memories and past experiences as part of a fulfilling life.

We go through so much in one lifetime, that all our forgotten memories, or at least, the ones which we move to the back of our mind to make way for newer ones, tend to lie there, lost and waiting to be retrieved when we need them.

Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre (TMYT), under the direction of the ever-energetic and imaginative Denise Mulholland, imagined a place where these memories might go to rest: the magical forest of memories, where they are collected and catalogued for posterity (and for possible retrieval by their owners) by a crotchety Old Man and his young apprentice/assistant – a Girl in multicoloured clothes with an earnest disposition and a heart of gold.

Dynamics on stage focused clearly on the concept that this was a company piece

Staged at MITP last week as part of the ŻiguŻajg Arts Festival for Children, this production was another showcase of TMYT’s technical training and a successful blend of whimsy, musical and choreography set to the format of a quest.

When the memories suddenly start going missing from their quirky receptacles, the Old Man, a puppet manned by Mariele Zammit and Justin Mamo (voice), tells the Girl to go off in search of answers and she does – looking for the Sentinels, mysterious and apparently fearsome shape-shifters who hold many secrets, while at the same time looking for the person who seems to be following her.

Recounted in classic choral speaking, which self-reflexively explains certain theatre practices in a direct address to the audience.

Musical numbers were accompanied by a live band and set to Luke Saydon’s music and lyrics, with additional music and sound editing by Philippa Cassar, accompanied by band members Sandie Von Brockdorff and Beppe de Gabriele, the piece unravels at an enjoyable pace – a clear sign that Saydon and Cassar’s musical aptitude has come along in leaps and bounds since these two actor-musicians took to the stage a couple of years ago.

The dynamics on stage focused clearly on the concept that this was a company piece, with even the minor roles required on stage for scene changes and ongoing costume changes too.

Designed by Jodi Magri, the costumes complemented the storybook feel which the set and lighting, by Pierre Portelli and Chris Gatt respectively; were meant to give the audience.

Thus as each scene unfolded, the impression was of an eccentric and likeable illustration, rich in detail while leaving enough to the imagination.

With carefully blocked choreography by Sandra Mifsud, the ensemble pieces filled the stage with a flow of movement, while the intrepid Girl, who has to fight her own fears and misgivings to set out on her journey, meets the Sentinels in a hilarious scene where these shape-shifters turn out to be much more ebullient and funny than she expected, giving her advice in riddles before sending her on her way.

Telling her that she has three sunsets to retrieve the stolen memories and save the day, the three Sentinels, played by Vikesh Godhwani, Marta Vella and Justin Mamo, were terrifically fun to watch, with Ms Vella’s strong interpretation emerging as the strong exponent of Godhwani’s sharp scripting skills, which were clearly visible in this scene.

With their quick changes and witty pop-culture references, the comedic element taken care of by the sentinels and the supporting cast; while Paula Mintoff’s earnest and very endearing portrayal of the Girl, showing clarity of diction and a solid knowledge of characterisation, the themes of growing friendship, empathy and the kindness of strangers were emphasised by her developing relationship with the Boy, whom she discovers is the memory thief.

His reason for stealing memories is a genuine one based on his attempt to make his dying sister’s life as happy as possible.

The Sister, a puppet manned by Daniela Carabott Pawley and Robyn Vella (voice) was a tad macabre as she was faceless, but symbolically, she represented all those unfortunate people who do not have to opportunity to experience life and make new happy memories because of their illnesses, which keep them bound inside.

Andre Mangion’s Boy was an example of selfless familial love and he portrayed this well.

Such focus on technical excellent and a tight, slick execution has become the calling card for TMYT productions and The Three Sunsets is once again a reminder of this – that young local talent is out there and that the calibre of their work is not only highly entertaining and watchable, but also a sign that proper investment in cultural education pays off.

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