For the past four years, Carlos Farrugia has helped turn the traditional passion play on its head with an alternative that has become a seasonal favourite with Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He tells Iggy Fenech all about this year’s play, Ħarsa ta’ Kristu.
It’s been four years since Carlos Farrugia and Joseph Galea joined forces to stage their first alternative to the traditional passion play, Kristu fi Strada Stretta, which was so popular it had its run doubled from seven to 14 performances. Coincidentally, I had reviewed the piece for the Wednesday edition of this same newspaper and, at the time, I had written that “the play was more about the darkness of man’s soul than religion, and Jesus – or, rather, His words – served only as a moral conscience that provided words of wisdom as the story unfolded”.
That has remained true for the sequels of the now-annual Lenten collaboration between the two gentlemen, who have since produced Passjoni tad-Duluri (2016) and L-Iffissat t’Alla (2017). In the former, Jesus was represented by a psychologist offering professional advice to his patients; in the latter, He was present in the various crucifix models making an appearance throughout the story. In these plays, it is not religion that dictates conscience and morality, but vice versa.
“Lent is a time for reflection,” says Carlos, whose first theatrical role back in his teens was actually as Jesus Christ and who has gone on to become one of Malta’s most recognisable faces on TV and stage. “That doesn’t mean that you have to be religious, however. In fact, in these plays, Jesus is a symbol of goodwill, justice and kindness rather than the Son of God.”
In a script by Joseph Galea, the story of this year’s serving, Ħarsa ta’ Kristu, follows in the footsteps of its successful predecessors and is inspired by the fratelli, the hooded men carrying chains at the Good Friday processions. The setting this time, however, is Seville, Spain, where two Maltese couples meet on an excursion to the city famous for its Holy Week processions. Each of these four people wears their own mask, carries their own past and has their own secrets, hidden even from those closest to them. They live life behind a mask created to deceive the world into believing they are different from who they really are.
“The truth,” Carlos explains, “is that every person hides behind a mask and, in a way, we mirror those wearing them at Good Friday procession. But what makes them do it? To continue tradition? As a physical manifestation of fanaticism? Or maybe through a sense of guilt?”
In these plays, it is not religion that dictates conscience and morality, but vice versa
Featured in the main parts of this contemporary piece along with Carlos will be Lorianne Bugeja, Antonella Galea Loffreda and Aaron Fenech in the main parts, with Steve Cilia, Stefan Bezzina, Patrick Tanti, Gilbert Mallia, John Vassallo, and Shana Kirsty Atkins supporting them. In the piece, however, the real and the surreal merge in a world of dreams where desires are uninhibited and where masks melt away.
“The actors are the focus of this piece,” he continues, “And this was partly why Spazju Kreattiv was such a good spot to hold this performance: it’s intimate; it’s minimal. It will allow audiences to connect with the characters and to live through the story with them. Completing the piece, which is being produced with the help of Jo Christine Scicluna as the production consultant, will be Croatian musician Ivan Arapov, who, on top of composing the score, will be performing it live every evening. And dancer Marylin Abela, who Carlos tells me is an integral part of the play but wouldn’t elaborate for fear of ruining the surprise.
“I absolutely love working with Joseph and I hope that audiences will enjoy this piece as much as they have enjoyed past ones,” he continues. “Indeed, we enjoy working together so much that we have a few other projects together before Lent 2019.”
The first of those projects will be a comedy about the history of the rediffusion and broadcasting in Malta, which is currently being performed at various schools around the island before a grand finale at Spazju Kreattiv in May. Then, there will be a comedy/parody about Valletta’s history from the point of view of Dragut. Also to be staged at Spazju Kreattiv – but on the first and second weekend of October – Imħabba fil-ponta tas-sejf is a play with a script written by Trevor Zahra.
It seems like Carlos has a busy schedule ahead, but he’s still looking forward to taking up the role of Mark in Ħarsa ta’ Kristu, particularly as these plays have become a highly-anticipated date in the calendars of believers and non-believers alike.
Ħarsa ta’ Kristu will be on at Spazju Kreattiv on March 23, 24, 25, 27, 28 and 31at 8pm, and on March 30 at 10.30am. Tickets are available online.
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