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Night one of the Drama Festival

By C. Wall

The first post-Covid Drama Festival, in Gibraltar and perhaps anywhere, opened with lonely teenagers on an online forum, an odd rebirth for the healing rituals of life on stage. Chatroom by Edna Walsh is now as old as its protagonists, whose once-contemporary criticisms of Britney Spears, J K Rowling and Roald Dahl have been long eclipsed by subsequent rescue and cancel campaigns. The production, by Natalie Bonavia and Carmen Anderson for Bayside & Westside Drama Group, maintained a lively rhythm, animating the talking heads through lighting and movement, without ever matching the visual excitement of today’s social media.

It did succeed as a platform for strong individual performances. A caustic Jasmin Jarman and serpentlike Jake Hancock made chilly antagonists, accurately depicting the tactics of online bullying but denied a chance to develop any vulnerability. This we saw from the effusive honesty of Eloise Martinez, the cerebral detachment of Maxwell Santos, and the brightening empathy of Emma Olivero. Nikolaj Forrester captured the listlessness of online existence and the blurry line between performative victimhood and genuine self destruction.

GAMPA Juniors brought their usual joy with Can I Count on Your Vote? an original play by Hannah Mifsud. Krsna Gulraj was scarily believable as a bullying Middle School politician, a prototype of Reece Witherspoon’s monstrous Tracy Flick. Michael Cortes provided the perfect counterpart, thoughtless but effortlessly affable, while Joseph Cortes and Isabella Azopardi added defensive humour and souring friendship as the collateral damage of the campaign. There was great characterisation from the young players, a lovely allusion to U.S. politics, and a pleasing resolution of the dramatic themes. Alas, the stage movement by Tanya Santini was too formal, and physical gestures too generic to match the energy of the acting.

The title of Four Minutes, Twelve Seconds by James Fritz refers to a leaked video, but the production by Santos Productions focused more on an inner family dynamic, the other side of Salvame, if you like. Amee Freyone lent a painful sympathy to the unravelling of her homely pieties, neatly balanced by Julian Felice’s cool underplaying and dark complicity. Aaron Mosquera was a likeable teenager, while Celine Azopardi, put upon by everyone on and off stage, retained an enigmatic self-possession.

Christian Santos directed with his flair for bold strokes, though individual scenes needed closing more punchily. Mr Santos might also have mined the class tensions and gallows humour to counteract the unsettling focus on everyone but the victim. A drab-looking set by Lizanne Figueras proved an effective backdrop for character costume and movement.

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