Drawing life out of the darkest of places
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Drawing life out of the darkest of places

Unifaun tap into a popular genre and bring a fantasy book adaptation to life

Photos: Mark Zammit Cordina

Photos: Mark Zammit Cordina

Theatre
The Acrobat
Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier

The vampire has been a cult figure in fantasy thriller and horror genres for years. Its recent revival over the past 20 years or so in popular culture – both in fiction and in television serialisation, has gained incredible popularity.

This newly retouched version is romantic, broody, stoically benevolent but with the underlying threat of rage and violence which so fascinated the avid readers of Victorian Gothic in the 19th century. The allure of forbidden sensuality has transmuted into a complex creature to be pitied and lusted after, rather than being a malevolent figure ready to kill for survival.

Unifaun have, in their usual manner, chosen an unusual topic for dramatisation. Producer Adrian Buckle has adapted Agnes Moon’s gay vampire novel The Acrobat for the stage, under the direction of Stephen Oliver.

With a faux gothic set designed by Romualdo Moretti, which resembles part typical vampire lair and part abandoned house, BDSM accoutrements were added to allude to the resident vampire’s rather kinky sexual proclivities.

Nicole Cuschieri’s costume design blended the traditional gothic style, with a more contemporary street style, which together with Moretti’s set, created the right mood for the piece. I am not a particularly big fan of the vampire genre to begin with, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the very strong performances of the main actors, who managed to make the subject matter of a niche genre, extremely easy to follow.

Their strong dynamic and incredibly sharp timing made the most of Buckle’s cleverly transformed adaptation – particularly in the first act. I did, however, find the second act to be too dense in terms of material and varying leads and subplots.

Certainly very watchable

Undoubtedly, Buckle’s adaptation was intended to be faithful to the plot of the novel, but it felt as though there was too much packed into a short second act: a pity, because the cliché-heavy plot had an excellent thread of characterisation running through it.

Marco Michel played Vincent, the handsome and mysterious vampire who catches Cody Hively’s Liam, the “acrobat” in question – a thief who breaks into his house and finds a lot more than he bargained for. Hively was a strong and fiery lead with his youth and confidence contrasting sharply with the restrained but powerful performance given by Michel.

These two unlikely lovers start their relationship turbulently, in a cat-and-mouse game which ends in mutual loyalty and a very lustful, but tastefully done love scene. The play certainly focuses strongly on gay relationships and generally portrays them well, within the fantasy element of the genre, however, while the focus on LGBTQ-sympathetic material is admirable, the niche subject matter might have been a tad too restricting.

It seems as though this play would have benefitted from being a two-parter, given the fact that it dealt with several significantly powerful themes which required more time, such as the exploitation of the vulnerable and misplaced trust and loyalty.

The actors’ strong performances managed to make the subject matter of a niche genre, extremely easy to follow.The actors’ strong performances managed to make the subject matter of a niche genre, extremely easy to follow.

Mark Windsor had some clever character doubling as antagonistic vampire Bernhard Guttenbraun; ring-leader and paedophile Curt and the molesting hypocrite Steve Brenner – all of who negatively affected Liam’s life.

I also found Martin Szekely’s Bastien, Vincent’s right-hand-man/vampire to be a studied take on the figure of the loyal servant. The international mix of actors was completed by the Maltese contingent – Jamie Cardona who played Mal, Liam’s sick friend and ward, as well as Philip, a young vampire in Vincent’s faction; Rambert Attard who portrayed Boris, another vampire at Vincent’s service; and, finally, Clayton Mallia, who plays the sadistic Luke – Curt’s henchman.

While Cardona’s performance was solid enough, it felt a tad contrived, while Attard and Mallia both came across as rather forced, and I suspect, unintentionally so.

The Acrobat tackles the dimension of a problematic relationship rather well and is certainly very watchable, especially from the point of view of characterisation. It does however, require the audience to turn a blind eye to an overly-complex second act, which in spite of its plot-dense nature, does not detract from the powerful attachment between its leads.

The Acrobat is being staged at Spazju Kreattiv, St James Cavalier on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm.

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