2015.11.30 Julian Review News Image

Photo: Joseph Refalo

His life may not be cool at all, but certainly it turned out to be interesting and somewhat appealing to a cross-generational audience that graced the Aurora Opera House’s stage last Saturday, 28th November 2015. In <<Il-Ħajja Xejn Cool ta’ Teenager Jismu Julian>>, co-produced by Studio18 and Aurora Youth Movement, there was his-not-so-cool-life that (as intended) left a bitter taste, and then there was Julian, who splendidly stole the show.

Posted: 30th November 2015

 <<Julian>> ran twice for school children, and for a third time last Saturday for the public, which was hosted in an intimate stage-turned-auditorium, as well as in a number of boxes due to a strong demand. The story revolved around a teenager called Julian, whose life presented all kinds of dark forces; separating parents, the prospect of a ‘new’ parental figure at home, the lost chance of a cool girlfriend, the distasteful prospect of a nerdy-bestie at school, falling grades, bullying and stressful rebellion.

It was all about emotions, and once the actors succeeded in conveying these, much of the success was secured. Julian had various kinds of relationships. The ones with his busy and incomprehensive mother, and with the headmaster were quite straightforward; simply antagonistic. But with the guidance teacher, with Kelly the nerd, and with Malcolm ‘il-King’, there was more than meets the eye. There were twists in these relationships, that were first and foremost, very philosophically conceived and skillfully scripted by Simone Spiteri, and secondly very deftly carried out by the actors, under the direction of Jean-Marc Cafá, in full support of the hard-working Maria Buttigieg.

The most difficult thing was the changes in the moods. Understandably, one cannot afford to have a depressing plot from start to end. Equally, one cannot treat a subject that is sad in essence, without the required intensity. So balance was key. So one moment Julian calls Kelly ‘sissie’ as she hands over her finger to make a promise, and another, he is interested in hearing the story of her divorced parents; one moment he is defiant with his guidance teacher, the next he is asking her about her own father. Salient moments like this remained credible all throughout the play, because tempos of dialogues and monologues varied in very calculated manners and complemented parallel efforts with music, lights and acting techniques. Perhaps, the stressing climax of the mother, the bully and headmaster could have been more intense, considering the degree of quality that the remaining parts of the play managed to reach.

2015.11.30 Julian Review News Image1The dynamic use of the cubes was very effective. Doubling the roles of props and sets, they were unobtrusive and fluid, allowing the story to flow from Julian’s room to school, from class to office. One important environment was cyberspace – a space in which Julian and his peers equally dwelt. The chats projections, but not only, meant that even the technical crew had its hard nut to crack, but ultimately it turned out to be spot on. Most certainly, production-wise, it was an enriching experience for the Aurora technical team, headed by Donald Camilleri (lights), Joseph Bonnici (projections) and Ronnie Debrincat (audio), to work with Larissa Bonaci (producer), Jean-Marc Cafá (director) and James Azzopardi Meli (asst. director).

<<Julian>> has been performed several other times in Malta – in Maltese and English – with professional actors. This Gozo co-production was part of a larger exercise in drama and acting, and thus it saw all the main characters being interpreted by Gozitan youths who rose to the occasion of a massive learning curve in theatre-work.

Cassar's take on the character was a very courageous and admirable one.
Julian, interpreted by Andre Cassar, stole the show. His take on the character was a very courageous and admirable one. His Gozitan inflection and cadence (“guidAAnce” and “mhux fairr” come to mind!), and his matching Gozo College uniform, were too cute to be overlooked. He was best in his dialogues with Kelly, his nerdy-friend, ably interpreted by Abigail Farrugia and with Malcolm ‘il-King’, the ring-leader of the ‘coolest’ gang at school, interpreted by Francesco Grech. Still a teenager himself, Cassar had the verve of being a rebel, and the teenage slang and gesticulations spluttered so naturally in context.

Kelly and Malcolm (Abigail and Francesco) balanced each other out. As much as you could love Abigail for her genuine and honest self, you could hate Francesco for being none other than… (yes, that’s the word) a man-b*tch. You could have taken Abigail (who turns out to be a pitiful soul as much as Julian) to live with you, as much as you could have hit Francesco with a stick and leave him wailing there. Thumbs up to both of them as they read their characters well and delivered top-notch roles.

Another counterbalance emerged between the guidance teacher – Lara Xerri, and the school’s secretary – Deborah Portelli. Xerri, a teacher by profession, Miss Attard on stage, portrayed sense and order. Neat and composed in her dress, looks, as well as stage presence, she might have appeared over-acting in her lengthy narration of her ‘troublesome’ teenage years. She looked too good for that kind of reported bad behaviour, so Julian had every reason to ask her cynically if she recounted that story to each and every child that seeks her help. On the other side of the seriousness scale was Deborah Portelli, the secretary. The comic relief brought by her presence was very welcoming. Although minor, she fulfilled her role to a very satisfactory degree; a confident approach yet without stretching it too far. Funny how awkward it can be when a comic role hardly stirs any sign of laughter. Deservedly, this was not the case. The headmaster, a role interpreted by Joseph Tabone, was authoritative. He projected the right image of someone who is trying to tackle the surface problem with little awareness of what could lie beneath – or worse still, looking for that person on whose desk he can deposit this problem.

This is what <<Julian>> stood for and
it is in this direction that hopefully <<Julian>>
has set the Aurora going.

One of the most difficult roles was that of Julian’s mother. Getting in the shoes of Julian’s mother must not have been an easy thing for Maria Agius. She had to have us believe she is torn between her love for her son, whose reactions are causing her so much pain, and her new partner, whom the audience does not even get to see. She had to project herself as a mother who is looking at the caring needs of her son (while she is still leaving him with grandma), and at the same time, a woman who has her own caring needs to fulfill by finding a new love-life after a failed marriage. And Maria did this to the best of her abilities.

<<Julian>>’s cast included two other sets – a set of classmates and a set of avatars. The classmates (Clara Sciberras, Joseph Cefai, Thomas Bajada, Marcella Tabone, Elena Sultana and Mario Caruana) coloured the lighter moments of the plot. Considering that in a small-cast play like this, how easy it can get to spoil the scene, their input was very valid and prudent. Indeed, they contributed to the conveyance of the message. The Avatars (Nikki Demajo Albanese, Robyn Vella, Andrew Micallef and Fran Fenech) portrayed Julian’s innermost dilemmas created by the various external forces such as his mother, the headmaster, and his bully/cool classmate. Their choreographies were not only meaningful but professionally executed, so much so, no one bothered asking what or who they were because their meaning was loud and clear.

<<Il-Ħajja Xejn Cool ta’ Teenager Jismu Julian>> was a very welcoming breath of fresh air to the Aurora and to Gozo. It stands as proof that there is good-quality material by local authors; there is good-quality material in Maltese; there are professional companies willing to work, and more importantly, willing to teach and share best-practices. <<Julian>> helped us see the potential of the magnate Aurora stage as a creativity box of its own merits and repute and while the Aurora Opera House can be a driving force for the operatic genre, the Aurora stage can equally be a driving force for such intimate theatre experiences. On a wider note, <<Julian>> showed us how, regretfully enough, school children in Gozo are dreadfully lacking qualitative theatre. This is what <<Julian>> stood for and it is in this direction that hopefully <<Julian>> has set the Aurora going.


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