In his programme note for the staging of his debut play Unintended, Adrian Buckle writes: “We need extreme experiences to make us think.” Buckle is also artistic director for Unifaun Theatre, a company synonymous with theatre productions that over the past few years have singlehandedly stretched the boundaries of local theatre productions by putting on plays that employ shock tactics to get their point across.
The central character of his play is Jamie, played by Stephen Mintoff, a well-to-do young man in his late teens who is keeping his virginity intact until he meets the special person in his life.
We also find out that Jamie was born out of wedlock to a workaholic, rich father and abusive mother. She wanted to abort him, yet was forced to change her mind and ended up having to marry his father, a man she never loved.
In spite of his domestic dramas and the bullying he experiences at school, Jamie has actually turned out into quite a decent human being: intelligent, principled and good-looking, to boot. No wonder he stands out from the crowd and attracts the attention of Lily-Ann, played by Mariele Zammit, a high school colleague of his.
Lily-Ann, on the other hand, is a sexually precocious girl who has decided that Jamie will be her date at her upcoming prom. On the night of her prom she insists that Jamie calls for her at her home to meet her parents.
But Lily-Ann’s parents turn out to be a pair of utter psychos. Lily-Anne’s mother Diana, played by Joyia Fitch, is a cross between Stifler’s Mum, the nympho from the movie American Pie, and Hecuba, the vengeful queen from the Greek tragedy of the same name, while her father Martin,played by Mikhail Basmadjian, is a cross between Mr Blonde, the psycho from the movie Reservoir Dogs, and George, from Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Buckle would do well to invest as much energy and craft into stirring people’s emotions as shocking them out of their comfort zones
I found the script to be uneven, with a very strong start that had the right amount of tension and comic relief, as well as a wonderfully surreal final act that had shades of Donnie Darko. Unfortunately, I struggled to retain the same interest in most of the central act, which I found gratuitous in its visuals and the dialogue pedestrian.
Moreover, the central character of Jamie had too many elements thrown in to make him credible. On the other hand, all four actors handled the challenging script very well despite its unevenness, and all gave well-rounded performances.
I was particularly intrigued by Fitch’s strong portrayal of Diana and look forward to seeing her in more productions on our stage.
The direction of the piece by Stephen Oliver matched the writing in terms of risk-taking. Oliver opted to adopt a device that Dennis Potter used extensively in his TV films, that of having the actors lip-synch to recorded songs mid-scene. While I admire the use of such a technique, I must say that I do not find it to work as well in live theatre, particularly in a space such as that at St James Cavalier.
When used in TV or film, as in David Lynch’s excellent use of the device in Blue Velvet, the technique works best when it comes as a surprise and makes you remember that you are in front of a screen.
Oliver’s director’s note, unfortunately, gave away the element of surprise, and the fact that this device was used repeatedly in the first act weakened its effect with each episode.
Buckle’s first stab at staging his own work comes at a time when people are not easily shocked by anything much anymore. In the same programme note, he acknowledges that the internet, and social media in particular, has now desensitised us and made the shocking seem almost mundane.
Although the characters and subject matter of his play may come across as extreme to some, I doubt that the play will leave the effect that he desires, as it does not engage the audience enough on an emotional level to care about Jamie. Buckle would do well to invest as much energy and craft into stirring people’s emotions as shocking them out of their comfort zones, if he truly believes theatre to be a vital force of change.
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