Performance art
Grandma, Temi and the Crimean Fever
Palazzo Castellania

When personal family history is entwined with national history and indeed with medical history, the resulting narrative is bound to be compelling. This was certainly the case in the Rubberbodies Collective’s latest piece of performance art which blended conventional narrative techniques in a monologue with audience interaction.

Actress and microbiologist Ira Melkonyan took her select audience on a walkabout at Palazzo Castellania – the Ministry of Health – where the setting and architecture of the building itself became an integral part of the story.

In her sweet and engaging story Grandma, Temi and the Crimean Fever, Melkonyan, who was aided in scripting by Vedrana Klepica and dramaturgy by Katarina Pejovic, unravelled her great-­grandmother’s true story as an early visitor to our island and her friendship with Sir Temi Zammit, then a bacteriologist, in spite of their language barrier.

This is a definitely feel-good and highly-informative piece of performance art which is not to be missed

Her Ukranian great-grandmother, Nina, was in Malta for the greater part of 1905, where she kept a diary detailing her daily life and her growing friendship with her neighbour and “saviour” Temi – the doctor who had tended to her after her fall to the ground when they literally bumped into each other.

Nina, grateful to the kind doctor who had helped her, and wanting to thank him properly, decided that cuisine was a language that needed no speech to be understood – in other words, the old adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is true. Taking her friend Temi and his lab companions regular deliveries of food she concocted from local produce, Nina soon became a regular at Palazzo Castellania and befriended the cheeky lab monkey, Brucey.

Little did she know how big an impact her strawberry tart would have on Temi’s work, nor how strongly the ties that bound her to Malta would become – reaching across the century, to bring back her great-granddaughter to our island.

Melkonyan, in a simple blue dress – no doubt a tribute to the “best blue dress” her great-grandmother mentions, with long white socks, Mary Janes and her Peter Pan haircut, looked just like an enthusiastic young girl – eager to retrace her great-grandmother’s footsteps and explain what connected her granny’s cooking to the man who received his knighthood for discovering the source of undulant fever.

And it’s not just the likeable looks this talented young lady has to offer her audience, but also the brains to go along with it.

Directed by Jimmy Grima and launched as part of last week’s Science in the City events, this short but incredibly engaging piece endeared its audience to the characters while introducing them to an important aspect of Malta’s medical history and allowing them a glimpse into the labyrinthine corridors of the beautiful architectural masterpiece that is the externally unassuming Ministry of Health.

Its joyful journey leads right up to the secret hidden on the roof of the building and reaches a poignant, bittersweet ending.

But what makes this performance – which will also run as part of this weekend’s Notte Bianca, as well as the following weekend – so memorable and enjoyable is that it confirms the incredibly powerful effect that a single serendipitous encounter can have on those involved.

With the potential to entrance anybody from the very young to the very old, this is a definitely feel-good and highly-informative piece of performance art which is not to be missed.