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Neurologist’s Famous Case Studies Hold the Stage at Teatru Manoel

Neurologist’s Famous Case Studies Hold the Stage at Teatru Manoel

Teatru Manoel is setting the stage for Ir-Raġel li Ħawwad lil Martu ma’ Kappell – the first ever Maltese adaptation of Dr Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

The seminal 1985 study, authored by the world-renowned neurologist, is adapted, translated and directed by film and theatre veteran Mario Philip Azzopardi – and finally introduced to the local stage in a pioneering theatrical performance.

The play follows a series of clinical case studies detailing the unusual neurological conditions exhibited in Sacks’ own patients. This includes visual agnosia, which gives the play its title and describes a peculiar condition whereby patients are unable to recognise and distinguish between faces and objects.

The multiple characters that make up this fascinating study are taken on by no more than four actors – a feat that the expert and experienced cast is certain to pull off. Rising to the challenge are Mikhail Basmadjian, Ray Calleja, Vince Micallef Pulè and Charles Sammut. A versatile performance awaits, as each actor plays a number of characters, doubling as doctor and patient across several clinical interviews.

The originality of this production very much mirrors its extraordinary theme and the patients’ curious conditions, while proving to be a novel experience for all the actors. One of the greatest challenges they faced was understanding the unique nature of the patients’ conditions, and this called for a good deal of research on their part.

“I felt I had entered another dimension, which made me think deeply about the existential question of what makes us human beings with a reasoning mind,” Vince Micallef Pulè muses. He speaks of the great pressure to interpert the characters sincerely and authentically – “to express their confusion, fear and vulnerability, as well as their strength and determination to fight their conditions or to adapt to their strange reality.”

Ray Calleja shares an initial hurdle he had to overcome: “Given the play’s intense sincerity, it took a while to come to terms with the patients’ conditions. The insight into their plight and struggles is extreme and, at moments, overwhelming.” In the end, Ray allowed the characters to overtake his own personal traits so that they could come to life.

Mikhail Basmadjian’s approach to tackling the patients’ different realities involved digging deep to uncover some common ground in the wider human experience. “I tried to identify with the underlying emotion the patient would have felt at the time of the interview. I had to search for that emotion because, very often, their words and actions do not correspond to an emotional stereotype. Moreover, the script does not reveal their backgrounds, traumas, or whether they are even conscious of their own conditions. This makes it difficult to bring a character to life from absolute zero, based on just a few lines.”

For Charles Sammut, sensitivity was a crucial part of his interpretation. “The poignant balance between the tragic and the comic visible in these scenes is an important consideration for the performer. One cannot lose sight of the respect due to the characters’ dignity, even though the situation might verge on the farcical.” Nevertheless, Mikhail believes that humour helps, and encourages audiences not to refrain from laughter in the face of the show’s sometimes hilarious elements.

Charles hopes that “audiences will empathise better with the vulnerability of such unusual situations.” At the very least, the performance is bound to inform viewers and pique their interest in a captivating yet accessible peek into the human brain.

Ir-Raġel li Ħawwad lil Martu ma’ Kappell runs at Teatru Manoel on Friday 18 February at 8pm, Saturday 19 February at 8pm, and Sunday 20 February at 3pm and 7pm.

Tickets are priced at €20 and are available via email to bookings.mt@teatrumanoel.mt, by telephone to (+356) 21246389 or online at www.teatrumanoel.mt. This event adheres to all current COVID-19 guidelines.

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