All aboard for ‘Il-Fatat Kaħlani!’

A vibrant adaptation of Clare Azzopardi and Leanne Ellul’s beloved children’s book will soon open at Railway Station Garden, Birkirkara. Laura Bonnici chats with creative director Bettina Paris about The Shrinking Violets’ fun-filled, family-friendly, first ever show in Maltese.
The shows’ cast: (from left) Jeremy Grech, Sean Borg and Michela Farrugia. Photos: Emma Micallef

With mischievous ghosts, fantastic puppets and a classical music twist, a new children’s show in Maltese from The Shrinking Violets is getting set to transport audiences young and old on an exhilarating adventure.

Il-Fatat Kaħlani – adapted from Clare Azzopardi and Leanne Ellul’s acclaimed children’s book of the same name – transforms Birkirkara’s Railway Station Garden later this month into the story’s whimsical world.

Families and young children will meet Mundu, a funny and friendly railway conductor who knows all about the ghosts that inhabit the station. Each with their own story to tell, the delightful journey follows the station’s ghoulish residents and ghostly new arrivals – including Kaħlani, a chaos-causing, opera-singing ghost!

Bettina Paris: ’I felt excited to bring the story from page to stage.’

“When I first read the book, I felt excited to bring the story from page to stage,” Bettina Paris, the show’s creative director, says.

“Its local setting and quirky characters reflect a world and people I know, and I love the book’s themes of community, hope, acceptance and friendship.”

Il-Fatat Kaħlani features a stellar cast, including Sean Borg, Michela Farrugia and Jeremy Grech.

“Jeremy, Michela and Sean are amazing and the team stands on the shoulders of our stage manager, Robyn Vella. They’re extremely hard-working, curious and creative in rehearsal,” Paris continues.

“Maria Buckle’s adaptation differs from the book, both structurally and narratively, however the world of the play has remained the same. The biggest challenge has been figuring how to bring the ‘ghost’ world to life and set it apart from the world of the living, past and present.”

Here, puppets crafted by Matthew Pandolfino and a unique spin on classical music composed by Luke Saydon help to complete the enchanting experience, Paris notes.

“Given that we needed to distinguish between the ghostly world and the real world, and ghosts versus the living, it made sense that puppets would take on the role of the ghosts. I had been itching to work with Matthew for a while, and it has been a dream.

“Nothing beats the feeling of watching a child immerse themselves in a performance”

“When we first interacted with the puppets, the excitement was palpable. They have really pushed us to explore different ways of thinking, moving, speaking and storytelling. There’s been a lot of laughter too! There is one puppet that reminds us of someone iconic in the Maltese theatre scene… but we’ll leave our older audiences to guess who!”

Led by five powerhouse female theatre practitioners – Chiara Hyzler, Denise Mulholland, Maria Buckle, Jo Caruana and Cathy Lawlor – The Shrinking Violets have captivated audiences with shows such as Jamboy at the 2019 ŻiguŻajg Children’s Festival and Miscast last November. As their first ever show in Maltese, Il-Fatat Kaħlani marks a new milestone for the dynamic theatre collective.

“This is my first time working with the Violets as a theatre company, although I’ve worked with all of them individually over the years,” Paris explains.

“It’s wonderful to see local theatres and companies curating a programme of work in a mix of both Maltese and English – and against historic backdrops such as the last surviving carriage of the Malta Railway.”

Bettina Paris and Michela Farrugia during rehearsals.

Theatre can offer children a magical and transformative experience, she concludes.

“Nothing beats the feeling of watching a child immerse themselves in a performance. As a child, theatre gave me a space to grow, to build confidence, to be curious, to make friends, to think outside of the box, to fail and to build myself back up again. Theatre has the power to share some of life’s harder messages in an accessible and often hopeful way,” Paris continues.

“The team comprises seasoned professionals who care deeply about making theatre for young audiences, so I hope Il-Fatat Kaħlani will give families a bonding experience, a core memory and that special, magical ‘theatre’ feeling. We can’t wait to welcome audiences into our world – this story can’t be told without you!”

The Shrinking Violets’ production of Il-Fatat Kaħlani is supported by Arts Council Malta. Performances will take place at the Railway Station Garden (Ġnien l-Istazzjon), Birkirkara, on March 23 at 3pm and on Marchn 24 at 10.30am and noon. Booking is now open at www.tnd.com.mt. More information about The Shrinking Violets is available at www.facebook.com/shrinkingvioletsmalta.

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