Anton Manwel Caruana’s 19th century novel, Ineż Farrug, based around the mysterious disappearance of a Maltese girl, is widely considered to be one of the earliest novels written in Maltese. It is also the inspiration behind Ineż Kienet Perf(etta), Studio18’s latest work commissioned for this year’s ŻiguŻajg Festival.

Once again, following on from ŻiguŻajg 2014’s hit show #babydaddy, the brilliant scriptwriting skills of Simone Spiteri coupled with Jean Marc Cafa’s strong direction have produced another exciting show that not only grips the audience from the get-go but also provides an honest insight into contemporary local teen culture.

Peppered with a liberal dose of online slang, the script tells the story of Inez Farrugia, a precocious 14-year-old who goes missing in mysterious circumstances. Inez is the daughter of a local politician who is more concerned with the negative effect of the resulting rumour mill on his political career than on her welfare. Her relationship with her mum is equally strained as both of them suffer the consequences of a marriage of convenience.

Socially, Inez is considered to be very popular and a ‘perf’ (short for perfect in online slang) with the ability of garnering over a thousand likes with her profile pic. At the time of her disappearance she was dating Iż-Żep, a good looking 18-year-old chav much to the chagrin (and envy) of her frustrated mother.

Studio 18 are playing a central role to develop a strong repertoire of exciting youth theatre

Her bestie, Shen, is nowhere near as good-looking and popular as Inez and has her eyes on Max, a double-barrel surnamed, well-to-do, A-student who is besotted with Inez. The unscrupulous Max is only interested in using Shen to get Inez’s attention and will stop at nothing to get his way.

The entire story is told by five actors who switch between acting as a modern-day chorus and the various characters in Spiteri’s story. All actors were superb and the ensemble work was some of the best I’ve seen for some time. Credit goes to Cafa and Claudio Carta who choreographed the movement in a way that eschewed realism without falling into cliché territory.

From an acting point of view, I was particularly impressed by Mark Mifsud’s honest and multi-faceted portrayal of Iż-Żep. Mifsud is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. A similarly strong performance was that by Elaine Saliba particularly in her role as Inez’s mother – a complex character that brought out a finely-tuned portrayal from Saliba.

Once again, Cafa made excellent use of both sound and video images to bring the story right up to date. The choice of recorded music and visuals immersed the audience into a contemporary teen world that provided the perfect backdrop for Spiteri’s fast-cut cinematic style of writing.

It’s refreshing to see local theatre of this standard tackling local youth issues head on without falling into the didactic trap. The ŻiguŻajg team should be lauded for its continued efforts to commission work from local artists that speaks directly to our youth in a language they can understand.

On their part, Studio 18 are playing a central role to develop a strong repertoire of exciting youth theatre. I look forward to seeing more of their work.

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