Alan Fenech loves hard rock, he’s a football fanatic, and he works as a teacher, journalist and actor. But, once a year, for the past few years, he wants nothing more than to play Jesus! But that’s not all; in the last three years, he’s also written and directed an Easter week street-theatre production on the Passion of Christ, literally taking the play to the streets of Rabat.
An initiative of the Rabat Local Council, ‘Il-Mixja’ (‘The Walk’) has introduced street theatre to the Holy Week activities all over Malta and Gozo. Alan points out that this is not your usual pageant where actors simply mime their part as the street performance passes by accompanied by a playback recording. This is live theatre played out in the streets by some of Malta’s best actor and actresses.
Playing Jesus is a challenge – both physically and mentally; all the more so in ultra-Catholic Malta. It’s hard for an actor to bring something new to the role while at the same time living up to the public’s high expectations. There’s also the physical stamina required; the role of Jesus involves carrying a cross on your back for about an hour (this year’s weighed 12 kilo, but not as bad as the 22 kilo it weighed two years back!). Then, there’s getting ‘whipped’ (not for real, but it still hurts) and having a crown of real thorns shoved onto your head. Alan points to the big scar from last Monday’s performance.
To help him get through the evening, Alan downed three energy drinks before the performance. But, there’s also some long-term planning to do if you’re to get the details right and look authentic in the role. Alan had to look physically right for the part – he has long hair, but needed to grow a beard… and go on a diet for three months to lose 10 kilos. ‘That meant no sweets since January – even at parties. And most of my friends celebrate their birthdays at this time of the year!’ explained a suffering Alan.
Directing is also a challenge. This year, ‘Il-Mixja’ had a cast of over 50 people, including 15 main characters. But Alan’s biggest nightmare proved to be the costumes. Despite having hired the costumes six months before, they were told they’d only be available the night before the actual performance! Luckily, Alan had someone with whom to share the pain of putting on the performance: producer Michael Bondin. Rabat Local Council provided funding and support, and a huge number of volunteers filled in the supporting roles and helped with the technical work, carpentry, scaffolding, costumes, sewing and other essential tasks.
But, all said and done, why do the Maltese dedicate so much time and passion to the activities of Holy Week? Alan feels that occasions like this are where the Catholic upbringing of many Maltese people can be felt still. While Christmas has become too commercial, Easter still has spirituality attached to it. A performance such as ‘Il-Mixja’ is moving not only for the public watching, but also for those taking part. There is something spiritual about doing this ‘walk’ together at night on the streets of the old town of Rabat, guided by torchlight, and in remembrance of the suffering of Jesus. The established actors who take part look forward to the play as a yearly event.
In the end, beyond being simple tradition, these are occasions for people to come together in a spirit of friendship and selflessness to recreate something which is so important to so many Maltese people.
Photos: Andrew Galea Debono