Sunday 05 April 2020

Celebrating women

Photo credit: Matthew Cutajar from ICM Photography 

For this month’s edition of Kelma Kelma, Nota Nota, entitled Koffee Morning, the producers decided to go on a slightly different tangent and take their audiences into more thought-provoking territory. This is not to say that the theme of il-Mara (women) did not have its share of laughs; it certainly did. But this was not the same non-stop laughter which we had in last month’s Festa tal-Qaddisin (dedicated to Malta’s many patron saints).

For this show, Ray Calleja, Michael Spagnol and singer Daniel Cauchi accompanied by the Big Band Brothers, gave us a good dose of their now characteristic tongue-in-cheek humour and catchy musical numbers, but mixed it up with a touch of pathos. There was a moving poem by Anton Buttigieg, a heart-wrenching, spine-tingling ballad penned by Walter Micallef and powerfully sung by the talented Ira Losco (who judging by her performance, could be a wonderful actress) and Ray Calleja pointedly quoting the sobering statistics on domestic violence, girls forced into marriage as well as other facts about the inequality faced by women.

To be honest, I think sometimes the audience was not sure how to react at the constant shift of mood, especially those who had turned up expecting to laugh uproariously the whole time.

Was it still good entertainment? Yes, definitely, especially since I think the show’s best asset is its ability to fuse purely original Maltese material with accurate insights into our pop culture, into a non-stop, intelligently written script.

But, if I had to hazard a guess, I think that perhaps the producers were a bit too hampered by their own unwillingness to “offend” women by hesitating to resort to the usual stereotypes for the gags. The problem with trying to be too politically correct, however, is that sometimes you forget that it’s OK to use stereotypes and cliches because they are often very funny . And let’s face it, one of the best bits of the show were the observations of how men and women differ. I was crying with laughter at the truisms about how we never have anything to wear despite a closet bursting with clothes, how our bathroom shelves are groaning under the weight of every conceivable fruit-flavored moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner known to man and the flashes of pure hatred and fury which spark from a woman’s eyes when she spots another woman across the room wearing the same carefully-chosen dress as her at an event (the theme of Rocky as background music was a brilliant choice).

Is every single woman like this? No, of course not. But many are, and many recognized themselves in the description and well, it was hilarious. I am as feminist as they come, but funny is funny. My feeling is that the show could have used more skits like this one, because at times the dramatic bits (as relevant and effective as they were) threatened to overshadow the fun.

The subject of women in stand up comedy or a humorous show such as this, sometimes suffers the same fate as when comedians try to be funny about the issue of race. Everyone tiptoes around the subject matter because they do not want to be accused of being sexist (or racist). However, the best comedians are the ones who take thorny subjects like gender and race and say what everyone is really thinking and then deliberately poking holes in the cliches, turning them on their head, and delivering punchlines when you least expect them. I’m thinking of people like the fabulous Amy Schumer who is literally fearless in tackling even the most delicate of topics (“come on ladies, we’ve all been a LITTLE bit raped”). Perhaps Ray and company could have figured out ways to drive home the same important points about inequality and abuse, but using more satire instead of straight up dramatic pieces.

I must not forget to mention Claire Agius Ordway and Clare Agius who beautifully brought to life Trevor Zahra’s classic, eccentric, spinsters Kuncett and Marinton. I think I spent the first five minutes marveling at their amazing make-up and costumes which were perfect down to the last detail. They had their characters, which at first were portrayed though mime, down pat: Agius played the bone thin, proud and strutting sister, while Agius Ordway was the plump, snarling, bad-tempered one. I was also impressed by their ability to hold their poses without moving a finger for what must have been half an hour on stage while other performances were going on. When they finally spoke, they had the dialect down to a T. Bravi.

The usual nostalgia was very much present – a rare recording of Charles Clews telling one of his jokes, as well as a montage in tribute to the late, much loved comedians, Maryrose Bonello, Gemma Portelli and Vitorin Galea which was greatly appreciated by the audience.

The theme of the next show in the series Kelma Kelma, Nota, Nota will be: “If the world was Maltese” (Kieku d-Dinja kienet Maltija) between 25 – 27 August.

Now, THAT should be interesting.

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