The clown is an agent of disorder. An eternal misfit, the buffu seldom sits comfortably in any conventional context, be it theatrical or social. As he plods before his audience inviting laughter, he uses failure as his weapon of choice – the buffu is a miskin (poor soul) par excellence.

It-Teatru tal-Miskin, produced by Saydon Studio, is a weapon of mass destruction. It tears to shreds any pretence of narrow-mindedness with elegance and absurdity, holding a mirror to complacency and fear. It turns the tables on intolerance revealing with subtlety and sophistication the true miskin of the story.

Written and composed by Luke Saydon, the musical production was originally part of the Spazju Kreattiv 22/23 programme, holding its first run in Gozo’s Aurora Theatre and later at Spazju Kreattiv in September. This latest run at the Blue Box Theatre, Msida, took place between November 17-20.

Sean Borg (left), Thomas Camilleri and Chiara Hyzler as the three 'buffi'.Sean Borg (left), Thomas Camilleri and Chiara Hyzler as the three 'buffi'.

The play was directed by Denise Mulholland with movement by Ruth Borg, starring Thomas Camilleri, Chiara Hyzler and Sean Borg as three buffi who shock the isolated village of Ħal Fern.

Its inhabitants cannot leave as no bus ever passes through the village. After appearing unexpectedly in the village one day, setting up shop in the square, the buffi draw the ire of the mayor while piquing the curiosity of some of its inhabitants. During their daily shows from their caravan, despite the mayor’s many disruptive tactics, the buffi narrate the story of Bobby (Jamie Busuttil Griffin), the village toilet attendant who falls in love with the vicar’s nephew (Matteo Pullicino).

They tell the story using video footage (produced by Anthony Mizzi) projected on to their caravan.

Camilleri, Hyzler and Borg put on an expressive, intelligent performance, clearly moulded by Mulholland and Borg, with dramaturgy by Clare Azzopardi, to create an exceedingly absorptive rendition.

Saydon at the piano added greatly to the performance, accompanied by Simon Abdilla Joslin on the cello, Godfrey Mifsud on the clarinet and saxophone, and Joseph Camilleri on percussion.

Today Ħal Fern is probably more a state of mind than a physical place

As the story unfolds, meandering between past and present, the buffi transform into Medusa – an elderly blind villager – and the mayor before our very eyes, using a few props and some swift movements.

The transformation is utter and complete, immensely convincingly, almost magical.

The story has at its heart the obtuse intolerance of people who believe the world is as large as the street in which they live, akin to the Gozitans in 1901 who, as we are told by Saydon in the programme, thought the first bus to enter their village was an instrument of the devil.

It is a plea for those who live in ignorance and fear to leave the confines of their narrow thoughts and extend themselves to recognise otherness and difference, especially among the LGBTQI+ community.

The 'buffi' narrate the story of Bobby using a video projected on to a screen from their caravan.The 'buffi' narrate the story of Bobby using a video projected on to a screen from their caravan.

Despite how honourable their intention, I must admit that had I sensed any hint of ideological pandering – of preaching from a moral high ground – I know that’s when the play would likely have lost me. Instead, we have a story not consumed by its message or hijacked by political motive.

This is the great success of a play which, in the manner of the clown, reveals the absurdity of a situation to itself and everyone around it, not through coercion but with intrigue and playfulness.

Today Ħal Fern is probably more a state of mind than a physical place, or an allegory of individual human narrowness of experience, but I was reminded through the work that I am deeply unaware of the trials faced by the ‘others’ around me. Perhaps I too am an inhabitant of Ħal Fern in some ways.

It-Teatru tal-Miskin may very well be the best thing to happen to Maltese theatre this year. It is with good reason that each consecutive run sold seats like hotcakes, packing theatres to the brim, with audiences transfixed, shattering the earth in its wake. I only wish this had appeared 10 or 20 years ago.

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