A Review of Adrian Buckle’s Unintended

by Jessica Arena

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In our current political climate, never has the disconnect between the older generation and the younger been more pronounced in the public eye. Youth is moving away in ever more drastic and visible ways than the motions of their predecessors and contention is rife everywhere. This is the mood that Unintended, penned by Adrian Buckle, is hoping to capture and underscore through sharp and violent action.

Stephen Mintoff plays the doe-eyed Jaime, a young man hoping to escort Lily-Ann, played by Mariele Zammit, to the Silver Moon ball with as little incident as possible, but what transpires is a series of bizarre and shocking events, perpetrated by Lily-Ann’s parents, played by Mikhail Basmadjian and Joyia Fitch. There is a very telling portrait in the characterization of the four players. Jaime is a mild-mannered boy, whose nervousness and eagerness to please and be liked permeates through all of his actions, he is constantly uncomfortable by the actions of others but will not refute disputable actions for fear of disturbing social conventions. There is a very telling line of dialogue, in which Martin, Lily-Ann’s father, is aggressively trying to get Jaime to smoke a joint, after several instances of attempting to roofie him with mixed results, Jaime begins to actively resist, sensing an impeding danger, but Martin intones that he will be “very offended” after which Jamie gives in. The inability to resist or refuse even the smallest acts that cause him discomfort are a gateway into acts of violence and abuse committed by Martin and Diana for their own satisfaction at the expense of Jaime’s autonomy, which he continually finds himself unable to fight for. Drug use, sexual assault and extreme mutilation are all on the cards for Martin and Diana, who push to extremes in order to sate their own perversions at the cost of Jaime’s innocence.

Unintended takes a peculiar approach at communicating its theme. Overarching, the intention of framing the corruption of youth by their elders is obvious and effective, as illustrated by poor Jaime’s ordeal. However, attempts to tie back to current political events are a little weak and perhaps could have been enforced a little more subtly through dialogue and over the course of more than one conversation. At a late stage in the play we discover that it is set presumably somewhere in the UK, as Jaime and Lily-Ann discuss their views of a then upcoming Brexit vote. With the power of hindsight, we know now that the self-assurance of the Remain camp is fatal, and so Jaime and Lily-Ann’s discussion is bittersweet in the knowledge that goodness is not so obvious, and more often than not, debatable at exactly what is good for whom. I can see how Buckle tries valiantly to marry the image of Jamie’s vile ordeal with the post Brexit and President Trump world in which we live. His vision is clear, youth has been robbed, the democratic process has failed them and that process in this vision is akin to a violent sexual assault. However the broader themes tie in much too vaguely with the action onstage to have the desired effect, I believe. The inclusion of political themes come in at far too late and far too sparse a conversation in the script, and the intention for such themes to emerge is far clearer in the author’s note than in the performance itself. While on a condensed level what happens to Jaime is indicative of thoughtless and selfish corruption, the wider scope could have been enforced through more subtle and enforced dialogue.

An indubitably interesting aspect that shines through the performance, however, is the use of a lip-syncing technique, which I understand to be the brainchild of director Stephen Oliver. Making excellent use of the musical repertoire of Muse, incidentally from which the play also borrows its name, Oliver creates dream like fractures in the play with an almost filmic quality. This montage brings forward the underlying tone of sinister and menacing and allows for true motivation and desire of characters to be shown without the use of dialogue. Muse’s music can be animalistic, futuristic and severe, and these qualities serve to jar and displace the audience to suit the character’s needs. Accompanied by some very effective light work, this particular technique was very effective, although it could have benefited from some tighter choreography. On the case of movement during these montages, I feel as though cast members were given free range on how to move and use their space, and while not outright displeasing, there was nothing about the movement to music that seemed thoughtful or deliberate and came across more as improvisational.

Stephen Mintoff shines as Jamie, his performance clearly incredibly taxing and unwavering throughout, a burden he has no problem carrying. He brings a certain quality of the anxiety and eagerness of Jamie that is genuine and felt, his face flushing often, such is the intensity which he offers the character. Mintoff sports well the little quirks of an unassertive and restrained youth, such that is always clear that under the discomfort something is being held back, a constant thought unexpressed. With a soft, doe-eyed stare, Mintoff endures boldly the abuse and assault heaped upon Jamie, such as when he is manhandled from one scene to another, it feels like you’re watching Bambi staring down a hunting rifle, and are constantly hyper-aware that at some point it is going to go off. As a performer, Mintoff comes off as stalwart and engaging, an understated yet formidable presence onstage.

Mikhail Basmadjian and Joyia Fitch play wonderfully opposite each other as Martin and Diana, bringing to life the marriage of sex, violence and selfish exploitation. Basmadjian is an impeding presence, he exudes a violence that is silent, hiding under the veneer of liberal tendencies, but is ready to emerge at the slightest signs of resistance. The presence of masculine and feminine in this violence is communicated well by Basmadjian and Fitch, and through them, both alone and together, we can see what combination of traits come together to create the absolute violation of Jaime. Fitch plays the softer, but somehow more deadly of the two, offering a more soothing and reassuring tone to that of Basmadjian’s aggressive coercion, but whose acts come off as ultimately more violent and horrific. Her tone is flighty and selfish, communicating a persona with the ability to perform assault and mutilation at a heartbeat’s notice without so much as an afterthought for the consequences of the victim. The duo effortlessly fall into showing that their quest to sustain violent sexual fantasies is a practiced pattern, and an ongoing cycle which Fitch clearly leads.

Mariele Zammit’s Lily-Ann is a diminished role, yet perhaps the most telling and foreboding of them all. Her role in Jaime’s ordeal is perhaps the most unclear, as her indifference towards his suffering and awareness of the lengths her parents are capable of reaching contrast with the moments in which genuine affection for Jamie is shown. Zammit plays this perfectly, easily flitting from a self-absorbed phone zombie, to a concerned peer capable of tenderness and genuine affection. Her role remains dualistic and conflicting in nature, and gives an impression which leaves you never quite sure as to the true nature of her intentions. Is she well-meaning and trying to draw closer to the good, or is she simply a siren on the rocks, nothing more than a beautiful lure into destruction? Either way, the production never shows its hand.

Unintended is a disturbing piece of theatre and indubitably meant to provoke, and all the way through is nothing short of engaging. The rounded space of the Spazju Kreattiv makes for tight and cosy performance space, and this was deliberately used as an advantage to make the audience experience more immersive. The crowd I was sitting in was definitely invested and watching intently, with tension so thick, one may have required an axe to slice through the air. A provocative experience to say the least, Unintended is definitely worth a watch even for curiosity’s sake.

Contributed by Jessica Arena

 

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We urge you to watch this performance! Show dates are:

Thursday   9   February 2017, 8PM
Friday         10 February 2017, 8PM
Saturday    11  February 2017, 8PM
Sunday       12  February 2017, 8PM
Thursday   16  February 2017, 8PM
Friday         17  February 2017, 8PM
Saturday    18  February 2017, 8PM
Sunday       19  February 2017, 8PM

For more info here’s the Facebook event page and trailer.

Further reading:
Independent
MaltaToday

 

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