Raymond ‘Fight’ Beck (Teatru Malta)
St James Cavalier

If there’s one thing you can’t say about Teatru Malta, the recently formed national theatre company, is that they’re playing it safe. Artistic director Sean Buhagiar has taken the bold decision to kick off the company’s ‘indoor’ season with a play with a corny title penned by a young emerging local playwright about boxing. I must admit, I had my grave doubts as to whether this undertaking would work. By the end of the evening, I was floored.

Buhagiar has already proven his worth in a number of productions over the past few years. Yet I had a growing sense that in all the productions I had seen him direct he was still finding his own voice. With this production, it felt as though he was finally in complete control and could ‘do his thing’.

You could see it in the detail that has gone into this production; such as when even a minor (in terms of plot significance) character like the Ring Girl (Lynn Salomone Reynaud) adds a few deft touches to the ensemble playing. This is when you know you’re watching a production in which a lot of thought has been invested. The same attention to detail could be seen in the physical preparation of the actors (particularly those playing the boxers) as well as the specific dialect employed to give the piece a strong sense of place.

A great start for Teatru Malta

Buhagiar might have taken a significant gamble in champion­ing Andre Mangion’s script. Yet I can see why he felt it was a risk worth taking. Although Mangion’s script breaks no new ground in terms of either style or form, he cleverly manages to use the most unlikely of vehicles (boxing) to explore a particular corner of Maltese society in a fresh and truthful way.

The boxing match becomes the metaphor for the struggles of the various characters trying to make something of their less-than-gla­morous lives. And the boxing ring, quite literally, becomes the pjazza where all the drama enfolds.

My only disappointment with the script is that the character of Victor Beck (Raymond’s younger brother) was not developed further. This was possibly intentional, to make the final denouement more surprising. Yet, in my opinion, this was a missed opportunity to explore a very interesting character.

A great deal of credit must, however, go to the cast of this production who rose to the challenge and in the main delivered admirably.

Zep Camilleri was nothing short of excellent in his portrayal of Il-Gustuż, the Żejtun councillor and bar owner who also moonlights as a boxing trainer. John Montanaro also gives a strong performance as Raymond Beck, the underdog who is tempted to return to the ring by Il-Gustuż, for whom he also works.

Montanaro’s character is possibly the most complex and he brings to bear all his skills to give the character both depth and clarity.

Davide Tucci similarly matched Montanaro in his strong portrayal of the young champion boxer Dyson Cumbo, son to the local mayor and God’s gift to the female species.

His long-suffering girlfriend Blaire is sensitively played by Kim Dalli, while Peter Galea makes his father a suitably slimy character without necessarily falling into caricature.

The script cleverly balances the occasional melodrama with a good dose of coarse humour, and Hector Bruno and Jesmond Tedesco Triccas do a great job as the local village square commentators.

The production was also notable for its use of live music, provided by the local hip-hop crew Marmalja. The duo provided an effective sonic backdrop to the action with their beats and social commentary.

Similarly effective was the lighting design courtesy of Jimmy Grima; the boxing ‘choreography’ courtesy of Steve Martin; and the (deceptively) simple stage design courtesy of Adrian Mamo, which gave the production a strong visual coherence.

This was a great start for Teatru Malta. The production was far from perfect, yet, for the sheer guts of the producers and the full-on commitment of all the cast and crew involved, my verdict is simple: It was a knockout!

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