Like a lot of people out there (more than I thought, it seems), I went through a vampire phase. OK, now that that’s published on a national newspaper for posterity, I’d like to justify it by saying that it was a long time before vampires turned sweet and sparkly, and that my Anne Rice collection has long since been shipped off to the shelves of some charity shop or other. Except for Interview with the Vampire. Everyone’s got their guilty pleasures.
Since Bram Stoker almost singlehandedly dragged vampires out of folklore and into the realms of popular culture, the blood-sucking creatures of the night have undergone a bit of a makeover. Maybe it’s the concept of eternal youth, or maybe it was Brad Pitt flouncing around on screen in frilly period costumes. However it happened, somewhere along the line vampires stopped being creepy monsters and became sexy creepy monsters. And this is where Unifaun’s The Acrobat – Blood Ties comes in.
The idea of tapping into the cultural fascination with vampires and turning it into a fun romp on the Maltese stage is certainly an appealing one; however, The Acrobat unfortunately stalls right out of the gate with a weak choice of source material. Based on a novel of the same name by Agnes Moon, The Acrobat falls victim to a number of tired cliches and contrived storytelling choices which ultimately left me frustrated, or worse still, bored.
The story centres around Liam (Cody Hively), a young thief known as the titular ‘Acrobat’. He’s known as The Acrobat mind you, though the play never actually bothers to show us any of his skills or put them to any use aside from conveniently manoeuvring the characters into their starting positions. Instead, the script simply opts to have multiple characters awkwardly address him by the moniker to hammer the point home.
Unfortunately for young Liam, he seems to live in a world that is around 90 per cent populated by vampires, perverts or vampire perverts. Which brings me to another sore spot: no play which contains at least three separate incidents of attempted rape or sexual assault on stage should be marketed on its poster as a ‘comedy’. Not even if it features frisky vampires. In these times of increased awareness and outrage at sexual violence, this choice seems oblivious at best and shockingly tone deaf at worst.
Alright, you may argue, the attackers are bad people who receive their just desserts at the hands of vengeful vampires – but do they? Not quite. In fact, the first such incident in the play happens between Liam himself and none other than Vincent (Marco Michel), the very character he bafflingly falls madly in love with.
The play’s central romantic storyline veers worryingly into 50 Shades of Grey territory, presenting an unbalanced, predatory relationship as though it were a great love story. The characters of Liam and Vincent never really seem to bond, they simply go from antagonistic to enamoured around the time when it would be convenient to have two attractive actors take their clothes off and hop in a bath together.
Not having read the book, it seems perfectly possible to me that the growing relationship between these characters might be fleshed out within the narrative. However, if that’s the case, it certainly doesn’t make it through to what we are presented with on stage. Unfortunately, even under Stephen Oliver’s direction, it was difficult to flesh out many of the smaller roles, or lend credibility to the central romance.
To add to the difficulty faced by the cast, the dialogue, presumably translated from Italian, leaned heavily on exposition-laden speeches and often came off as clunky and unnatural. With a better script, or a more meaningful story to tell, The Acrobat could have been a far more enjoyable evening at the theatre.
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