Scotsman Jonathan Dunn will be joining the cast of ‘As You Like It’ this July on the outdoor stage at San Anton Gardens in Attard, continuing a tradition for local theatre club MADC that has now spanned 80 years. Here he shares his experiences of living and acting in Malta.
Why did you move to Malta, and how long have you been living here?
In early 2014 I found myself in desperate need of a new adventure. I’d spent a couple of years working as a jobbing actor around the UK, arriving and departing from many a cattle-market type audition, with nothing but an overwhelming sense of ‘There’s got to be more to life than this!’ All the time, as I shook cocktails during my ‘in between jobs’ bar job, I longed for somewhere balmy and Mediterranean. In the summer of 2014, I took the plunge and came to Malta (I’d chosen Malta in the Eurovision of that year in an alcohol-fuelled party game, and I wanted to learn more), to try my hand at teaching English as a foreign language. Four years later, I’ve forgotten to go back!
How are you finding adapting to the local culture? How is it different to life in Scotland?
Malta and Scotland are literally chalk and cheese. Landscape. Sense of humour. Values. Approach to the environment. Weather! All in all, my quality of life here is wonderful, although of course I miss my Bonnie Scotland. I find myself at times longing for trees – stop cutting them down! Malta really has welcomed me with open arms however, and I feel very at home here, even if I can’t find haggis – unless it comes in a tin, and that is just… abhorrent.
What’s your performance background, and how has that translated to life in Malta?
I trained in Glasgow, Scotland, and finished my studies in 2009. In 2010, upon my return from a long internship teaching drama in San Francisco, California, I started a year-long theatre internship at Glasgow’s world-renowned Citizen’s Theatre. That was when I began to learn what it was to truly act. Under the auspices of a myriad of talented directors and actors, including the late, great Amanda Gaughan, I started to develop myself as a working actor. After I arrived in Malta, my first two years or so were a complete break from the grind of trying to fight my way into the industry, almost forgetting all about acting as a profession in that time. And then, my dear Jean Brodie came calling…
You have now taken part in a number of productions on the Maltese stage. What is it like to work amongst a predominantly Maltese cast and crew?
Working in the theatre in Malta is generally quite a contrast to working in the UK. It’s a much less stuffy affair here, which I love – the casts that I have been fortunate enough to work with so far have been amazingly encouraging and talented. It feels refreshing to work with people from such a variety of backgrounds and experience, like we’re all collaborating in the process of bringing Malta’s theatre reputation up to be level with a higher global standard.
This is the second MADC Shakespeare you have featured in, following your role as Petruchio in last year’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. How is your role different this year in “As You Like It”?
In ‘As You Like It’ I am playing the fool, a character named Touchstone. He is a much lighter creation than Petruchio, who was often crass and brash. Touchstone brings a layer of foolish wit and insightfulness to this piece to keep it sharp and playful.
What do you feel makes San Anton Gardens the ideal setting for this production of “As You Like It”?
This year our piece has a very indie vibe, giving the feel of being at a hippy-esque music festival. To be under the stars in the magic and majesty of San Anton’s beautiful gardens, makes for the perfect setting for such a piece!
How do you find performing at San Anton Gardens? Have you changed your approach to working there following your experience last year?
Working at San Anton can be tough. The mosquitoes are relentless and the odd burst of fireworks from a nearby village Festa can trample on your best line. The ants seem set on finding your post-show snack and taking it molecule by molecule, crumb by crumb, from your bag. The peacocks meanwhile will upstage you with their shrieks, at the most inopportune of moments. (I recall a performance where a character asked loudly “Who calls?”, only to be answered by the distinctive screech of the resident male peacock). The cats truly own that stage – many an audience has been delighted by an unexpected feline onstage cameo. It is an unpredictable setting, which is why I love it so. This year I’ll be better prepared – mosquito repellent baths before shows, and zip lock bags for my sandwiches. As for the cats and peacocks, I’ve been working on my Dr Dolittle routine; “PLEASE GUYS, STAY IN YOUR NEST TONIGHT!’’
It’s 80 years since MADC first staged ‘As You Like It’ at San Anton Gardens. What is it like to be part of such a long-standing local theatrical tradition as the annual Shakespeare in the park?
I really feel honoured to be taking part in the annual Shakespeare again – I realise that for so many local people this annual tradition is such a huge part of their Maltese heritage and it’s not something I step into lightly. It is our responsibility and pleasure to carry the torch again this year, with another fabulous production, and ensure the punters get the magic which they so look forward to each year!
Why do you think Shakespeare is still so loved by modern audiences around the world?
I hate this question, since my words simply can’t do it justice. He is quite literally one of the greatest social observers in history, whose text and themes are as relevant today as they were 400 years ago. Jealousy, hate, love, lust, fear, oppression… He covers it all.
How do you approach preparing, and acting, the Shakespearean text?
With great trepidation, matched with enthusiasm to do the text justice and a patient understanding that it won’t click into my brain overnight. There are also many cups of tea! Detailed study of the character and their relationships is key to bringing the piece to life of course. Red wine helps too.
What would be your advice to anyone hoping to get involved in the Maltese theatre scene?
My advice to anyone out there who wants to get involved in theatre in Malta, but hasn’t yet, is to do it. Now! It will change your life irrevocably and open your eyes to a truly fresh approach to this beautiful, crazy, wonderful world of performance, as well as this beautiful, crazy, wonderful island of Malta.
Jonathan Dunn will be performing in the MADC Shakespeare production of ‘As You Like It’ at San Anton Gardens in Attard between 13 and 22 July 2018. Further information and tickets are available online at www.madc.com.mt.