Arts and Live Entertainment Reviews

Castillo is Take Two’s ballsy theatrical debut. It is very loosely based on multi-award-winner Clare Azzopardi’s 2018 book.

Despite having had Claire Azzopardi’s book waiting patiently in my home library for years now, I never managed to get around to reading it. I consequently went into yesterday’s show without an inkling as to what I was about to witness. I admit; it did occur to me to race through the book last week just to be able to compare and contrast the presented theatrical piece with the literary work as one is prone to do. But common sense eventually prevailed and I resisted that particular temptation. I’m a slow reader and proud of it. Time should be taken with good books, ideally with a full pipe and a hot mug in hand. Scratch that; time should be taken with a good story, whatever the medium. But especially with award-winning books by Clare Azzopardi.

So yes, I walked into Spazju Kreattiv without the faintest. All I knew was that Mark Doneo was going to play this cocky-looking policeman as per the promotional posters. Which I knew would be amusing enough. Oh and naturally, I was also titillated by fact that it was written and directed by the brilliant Carlos DeBattista and Abigail Mallia respectively, the incessantly ingenious duo who also gave us Gizelle (2006), L-Evangelisti (2008), Deceduti (2010) and the charming cinematic gem, Limestone Cowboy (2017). Oh yes… and a little something called Min Imissu…

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During an after-performance Q and A, Abigail and Carlos expounded on the many ways their script differs from the original source material. I gathered that while the book remained the main source of inspiration and the story is told through and revolves around Azzopardi’s characters, the script was totally rewritten to better convey the story the Take Two team felt needed to be said. I’m not really able to discuss this in much more detail as, as I mentioned above, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading the book.


Plotline (hopefully without giving too much away)

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Amanda (Annalise Mifsud), a young expectant mother, has forever been questioning her own mother Emma’s (a dual role played by Simone Spiteri and Simone Zammit) decision to up and leave her and her father when Amanda was still a child. While trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, she comes across an as yet unpublished manuscript written by her aunt Cathy (Rachel Genovese) who had died in mysterious circumstances many years before. At every turn the figure of Castillo (Mark Doneo) crops up; an enigmatic Police Commissioner who is also the protagonist of a best-selling series of pulp novels written by Cathy before her sudden demise.

Blocking & Choreography

I hope I haven’t given away too much already. If I have, please forgive me. However, attempting to discuss any aspect of this play without divulging too much is proving to be an arduous task, primarily because of the unconventional way the narrative unfolds. Castillo’s primary ‘gimmick’, if I may, is the constant to-and-fro between time periods. Two narratives unfold simultaneously in two different eras, 1980s Malta and present-day Malta, leading up to one solid and satisfying conclusion. So what we’re treated to are a number of present-day segments, flashbacks, and in-betweens. And it’s those in-betweens that are so refreshing and exquisitely executed.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Characters which throughout the majority of the play exist in their own respective eras (present-day or 1980s Malta) now and then seem to be able to float into different time zones, gently slipping through the cracks of time-space, giving the whole thing a filmic, almost Interstellar-like quality at times. I’m not so sure if this was intentional (I think, probably not) but rather an unavoidable force of habit. Abigail is, after all, a consummate film and television director and she seems to have envisioned this theatrical production not too dissimilarly as she would have a screen production. I’m especially thinking of the play’s flashback transitions here. Their effectiveness is startling. There are blackouts between one scene and the other but even simple blackouts are hardly executed in conventional ways.

And there there’s this one particular scene involving four characters which was the theatrical equivalent to split-screen. This scene is a wonderful example of effective and original blocking. Two pairs of characters converse within a few feet of each other, each pair’s lines bouncing off the other’s in the most natural of ways, despite the fact that there is a thirty-year time lag between the two conversations taking place. The whole bit was choreographed like a dance. Fuckin’ fantastic scene.

It is these little flairs that elevate the written word to higher heights and glued me to my seat, not daring to miss out on a single word or a nuance. This is what makes Take Two so damn cool and different. They’re masters at grabbing your attention and keeping it hostage.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Sonic Ambience

As is always the case with places like Spazju Kreattiv, the very confined space necessitates directors to come up with original ways to convey the characters’ worlds to attending audiences. The audio track was wonderfully utilised to this end. The story moves forward through the intelligent use of non-diegetic sound. Sometimes it is important for the audience to give their full attention to what is being heard on these recordings as they serve to actually move the plot forward. Other times they are subtler but still quite effective. Case in point, the scene involving two characters, a mirror… and a music box.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Who would have told me that I would have so many questions watching two women silently combing their hair in front of each other with a mirror standing between them?  Are they the same person? Is she a reflection? Is she … a ghost? Better pay attention!

Script & Acting

The writing is, as was expected from DeBattista, astounding. It is writing as perhaps only Carlos and a few others of his ilk are capable of. As good as the lines are, of course, they are only as effective as their delivery.  And here I must take a moment to note the casting which was utterly genial on two levels.

Firstly, every actor did a great job because they were able to play to their own strengths. None of the actors seemed to be in too unfamiliar waters. On the contrary, it felt like they were comfortable in their respective roles.

Doneo’s titular character is perhaps the most colourful of the bunch. Potty-mouthed, cigarette-wielding, lame-handed Commissioner Castillo is a blast to watch. Say what he will about initially not being too enthused about the idea of returning to stage after twenty years, Doneo seems like he is born to play this role, clearly enjoying every second of it.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

With all his affectations, Castillo may initially appear to be little more than a caricature. But there’s good reason for this; the Police Commissioner isn’t entirely real. Or perhaps he is. Who knows? Go watch the play!

Clearly in love with himself, all Castillo seems to care about is that he continues to be. Not dissimilar to Collodi’s Pinocchio, Castillo recognises himself for what he is (limitations and all), but is also quite content to be the ruler of his own little realm.  

Perhaps this detail doesn’t occur to Castillo himself, but he also serves another, more important purpose in relation to Simone Spiteri’s Emma. I’ll just continue with my Pinocchio allegory and namedrop Talking Cricket here.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Disclaimer: If nothing at all from the above paragraph makes sense, it’s perfectly all right. A second read after watching the performance will make much more sense. Again, I’m striving not to spoil anything. But this is bloody hard!

The rest of the cast is equally superb. We’re presented with real, flesh-and-blood characters who are believable every step of the way. Each character has a complete and defined arch and as an audience, we are welcome to walk every step of the voyage with them. I must point out here that at times, the feature-length (there we go, another cinematic reference) play offers the audience such a feverish rollercoaster of emotions that it sometimes threatens to feel overwhelming.

Rachel Genovese’s Cathy and Francesca Scerri’s Anne’s arches in particular offer ample opportunity for the actors to fully explore different sides to their characters in a relatively short amount of time. From one scene to the next, Anne and Cathy masterfully carry us from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

All the actors’ timing, comic or otherwise, is brilliant. The rapid fire-back and forths between Doneo and Spiteri, and Doneo and Mifsud are particularly delicious. All of their give-and-takes are entertaining, the sensation not being too dissimilar to that of watching a great rap battle. And while I’m sure that (most of it) is scripted, a number of the quips sounded so natural that I wouldn’t be surprised to be treated to different dialogue were I to attend a second performance.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Andre Mangion’s subdued take on the humble, voice-of-reason Matteo is also quite charming. No real surprise there, Mangion has proven time and time again what a behemoth of an actor he is. Same goes for Daniela Carabott Pawley’s Gina, who gave one of the most realistic depictions of the typical Maltese ta’ wara l-persjana housewives.

And now for the other reason the casting was so inspired. Castillo casts different actors as the older and younger versions of two of the characters. A feat which in the best of circumstances, is always tricky to pull off. But here it worked marvelously. The actors playing the same characters not only look like each other (a lot), each pair of actors presented us with one authentic and solid character.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

But really though, what is Castillo all about?

I’m pretty sure that, as in most cases, the taste patrons will leave the theatre with will differ according to the individual. I’m sure that what I left with from yesterday’s performance was by and large informed by who I am and how I personally relate to events around me.  

On one aspect of its many surfaces, Castillo deals with the concept of the frustrated writer struggling to put words on a page. I could easily and readily relate to this element. There are few things worse in a writer’s life than being badgered by his or her own creations who mercilessly express their disappointment how the writer handles them.

But in truth…Mallia and Debattista’s version of Castillo isn’t about the author’s plight at all. Similarly to last year’s Taralalla (2021), it is a very necessary, stark piece of social commentary which leaves you with more questions than answers. And these are the parts to which I would imagine, nobody would be too eager to relate to, as doing so would mean staring the hideous parts of our society in the face.

Castillo did make me wonder, though. When faced with having to choose between living a normal, peaceful life and using my voice for the voiceless, what would the right choice be? And which road do I eventually take? Am I really expected to speak up? To be counted on? To fight other people’s battles? Which battles are my own? And perhaps more crucially…in a country where the search for the truth could mean risking your life, is the truth…

…is what’s right worth pursuing? 

Castillo doesn’t answer these questions but it does hint at possible answers. It knows right from wrong and offers a brief understanding hug to the disillusioned…but offers no real solace. As the last scripted lines are uttered and Amanda and Matteo act on their fateful decision, one obvious fact is blatantly clear for all to understand.

We are the society we deserve.

Photo: Audrey Rose Mizzi

Castillo is on at St James Cavalier until Sunday 20th February.

Read more about it and get your tickets here –

Fr.Karm Debattista: The Rhythm to the Melody Line

Arts and Live Entertainment Reviews, Uncategorized

  The Rhythm to The Melody Line took place at St. Agatha’s Auditorium on the 8th of February 2019, with a second concert at Oratory Don Bosco, Gozo on the 23rd of March. Supporting him on stage were the Zone 5 band, a colorful collection of friends Fr.Karm has kept close to his heart for the last 30 years (or thereabouts).


© CPi Media, 2019

  It would be futile to attempt to comment on the concert experience as if it were any other concert by any other artist for one reason; Fr.Karm is by far and large no ordinary person, and no ordinary priest for that matter. Most topics which most religious people address in harsh tones of black and white, he approaches in tones of grey. His theological perspectives are always fresh and habitually different from what we’ve probably heard before. While he’s talking about God, he is actually speaking about about the constant voyage we’re on called life.

  ‘(Fr.Karm) jafni ħafna iżgħar u ħafna irqaq!’ quips the proudly roundish figure of Andrew Cauchi, himself a veteran and staple of local Christian Praise music as he carries a stool on stage to join his old Maranatha brother for a charged performance of Imxi Warajja Illum mid-concert


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  ‘Imma int ma nbdiltx!’ Cauchi concludes. Feigning embarrassment, Fr Karm says nothing but blushes and nods at the audience. He really hasn’t aged that much throughout the years, and something about the way he conducts himself day after day tells us this sprightly, smiling priest with the guitar isn’t just lucky in the genes department, but perhaps keeps himself young in another way. Any one of us who work and live with him day in, day out can attest to the positive aura that seems to accompany him with every step he takes.

  In order to better understand how, at the young age of 58 this man appears to have a handle on the most fundamental issues most of us struggle with day in day out, I had a short chat with Fr Karm a few days preceding the concert. I started by asking him the question which I thought defined what to me, is the fulcrum his songs. Most importantly, why is he always going on about this ‘journey’ he’s on? Doesn’t he think of anything else? When will he have enough?


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  Karm: God’s presence is always there. Even if you don’t recognize it, it is there in different ways. I think this wish to embrace God’s presence is present in all of my songs. But the most recurrent theme in all of my homilies, talks and songs is the walk – the voyage or journey. So the concept of searching and journeying go hand in hand. Our aim on earth is to be on this journey.

  ‘Searching for what?’ I ask. For Fr.Karm, the journey seems to be an aim in itself and I find this thought daunting, to put it mildly. Its definitely not an easy or conventional approach towards life. I mean: who in their right mind wants to keep on searching without respite? To walk for the sake of walking?

 Karm: It doesn’t have to lead to anywhere. The problem happens when we think about a destination. The aim of life is the journey – not the destination.  You don’t have to arrive anywhere.

  It is evident in his songs that he knows the destination he is walking towards – as Imxi Warajja Illum directly implies. This song is easily the highlight of the whole concert. A gorgeous rendition carried by the duo’s tight harmonies and the band and choir’s undeniable chemistry.


© CPi Media, 2019

  During our same talk, we touched on other themes that frequently crop up amongst the most pertinent dilemmas humanity faces and which I was intrigued to hear his thoughts on. He sings more love songs and shows more yearning towards one person than most probably any other artist did towards any other muse. To put it in perspective, Pattie Boyd had three songs written for or about her; Something by George Harrison (her first husband) and Layla and Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton (her second). God had at least 93 original songs written or composed about him by Fr Karm, which automatically shows that God and himself have a lot going on between them.

  This begs the question ‘If God exists and is ever present, where is he when he can’t be felt?’

  Fr.Karm isn’t phased in the least. God takes you through the tunnel of darkness and he does this purposely. He leaves us in darkness because we need to be there – when you place darkness and light against each other and experience one through the other…that is the mystery of faith. Not when you’re in between the two states. You can experience the power of light only through extreme darkness. Dark and light. Death and Life. Jesus born in the Eucharist. That’s it. God places you in a dilemma… and tells you to deal with it. That’s all he does.

  ‘So…when children get sick…’ I interject. ‘Why should a small child contract meningitis? he cuts in.


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 Karm: Because meningitis is a part of life. It is also coming from what God created, which is all good. If you look at the microbe on its own, there is sickness. However, if you combine the pain the microbe brings with it with other ingredients, there is true healing.

  Pain and suffering along with the other reality heal you and help you live a life to the full. This is beyond our knowledge and understanding, although there are those who have experienced it. Famous mystics have been able to take these obstacles and just say all is well – all will be well. Whatever happens.

  Although he knows that what he’s saying isn’t at all easy to grasp, Fr Karm speaks assuredly. It is with this knowledge about the person that one can gain a better appreciation for the artist and the songs.

  The song Imla l Qalbi shows us a Fr.Karm that doesn’t want anything else but a relationship with God – ‘Imla l qalbi bik u xejn aktar.’ It also says a lot about the person and the MSSP mission and way of life. Who can really live without succumbing to materialism’s pull? In a way, its’ message echoes John Lennon’s Imagine.

  Another concert highlight would be the two songs he performed with Debbie Scerri, Inti d-Dawl and Kull Fejn Tmur. It is during the latter number’s instrumental break that he addresses the emptiness we many times experience in our lives. ‘Id-dinja toffri ħafna ħolm u faċli tinqabad minn ħafna affarjiet. Imma fil-fatt tiskopri li wara li tinqabad minnhom, jibqa’ ħafna vojt fil-ħajja tiegħek. Il-vojt li għandek f’qalbek għandu size u s-size li għandu dal-vojt huwa s-size ta’ Alla.’ Its remarks he seemingly nonchalantly throws away like this which makes one realize that his songs and words many times deserve a second and third listen.


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Fr Karm’s core message comes through clearest when addressing the audience right before the fourth song, Mulej Nafda Fik.  ‘Il-mixja tieghi hi kemm bdejt nitghallem bil-mod il-mod nafda f’Alla,’ he tells the audience.  This theme of walking…of journeying without end is so important to him. During our previous conversation, we had also gone into detail on this topic. It gave me insight that a two minute song doesn’t allow.

  Karm: I was once criticized by a Dominican priest for the fact that I had stated that you will never attain God. And its’ true, you never will. God would be a puppet if he lets you attain him fully and completely. You can’t have him in your pocket and control him. God can never fully fill your life. He fills my life in this precise moment. Afterwards I realize that I need more. There’s always a need for more of Godthere’s never enough. If today I think I’ve reached fulfillment, tomorrow’s meditation will show me a new God, a God very different to the one I met yesterday.

  Words that can easily confuse. They make me realize I myself may have misjudged Karm, assuming through reading the lyrics to his songs that he wanted to prove attainment of God.

 Karm: That’s why the walk is so important. You can never say you’ve reached the destination. Discovering God is a journey…I already found you, you are everything for me and I want nothing more. But I’m still far away. I will never be ready, not even in eternity!

  Again, this goes against one of the fundamental ideas I was taught in chatachism. What about meeting God at the pearly gates and finally finding respite from all the toil and suffering of this life…and from all the walking? What about resting forever from a safe place far, far away?


© CPi Media, 2019

  Karm: I will continue growing in eternity. What’s the point of walking and growing all my life on earth and never walking again? We will always continue to grow. That’s why my only point, my only focus is the voyage. Everything I do needs to reflect this.

  Fr.Karm Debattista has such a vast body of work that it wasn’t really a surprise that this concert omitted his most famous contribution to Maltese Praise and Christian music, the Christmas classic Armonija from his first album, Fittixtek. After our discussion, I couldn’t help but replay it’s refrain in my mind and realizing that, ever since he first started his performing in the 1990s, in almost all of his songs Fr Karm has really been trying to say the same thing; God is found by searching for him and by wanting to find him. And he’s found in the most commonly misplaced but at the same time, easily attained locations – love. All else simply serves as distraction.

  The third and final highlight of the concert was without a doubt, Nizfen Ghalik, during which the MSSP priest skipped and pranced on stage in an adorable performance I don’t think anybody really expected or is likely to witness again.

Unless you catch the The Rhythm to the Melody Line on TVM2, Easter Day at 3.15pm.


© CPi Media, 2019

For more information about Fr Karm and his albums, feel free to visit his website.