Chiara Hyzler – director of US/THEM

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Many will recall the images screened on TV of the tragic Beslan school siege, which unfolded over three days in this small town in North Ossetia, Russia in September 2004. The events will be evoked in an award-winning play, US/THEM, written by Carly Wijs. Produced by The Shrinking Violets and directed by Chiara Hyzler, US/THEM stars Maria Buckle and Jacob Piccinino. spoke to Hyzler about the challenges about bringing such tragic events to life on stage.

US/THEM is The Shrinking Violets’ second production and appears to be completely different in tone and genre to last year’s Ernest and the Pale Moon. What led to the choice of a play about the Beslan School Siege?
The Violets are always looking for pieces that have a particular quality to them that hasn’t been seen on the island. What excited us is the potential to do something different with our productions and select ones that we are feel would leave their mark. US/THEM does that. We haven’t watched a piece like this before nor something performed in this way either.
Theatre has become an important (and trendy) tool for sharing news and stories that will open people’s eyes to what’s really happening around us. Furthermore, throughout the actions of Maria and Jacob, we develop an understanding on how children deal with trauma and how it is seen from their perspective.

The terrorists took over 1,200 people hostage and killed 334 of them, including 186 children – how does this complex and ultimately tragic story unfold with just two actors on stage?
The characters recount the events in their own way, as they see them unfold. Maria and Jacob become different characters throughout the piece, and every inch of the stage becomes an integral part of their story. It’s fast-paced and entertaining and very emotional; it’s like a roller-coaster… an hour-long roller-coaster.

What are the biggest challenges you are facing in directing this piece?
The process has been very enjoyable, in particular because Maria and Jacob are very forthcoming with ideas and have developed the physical story very easily. However, as a director, the challenge has been to put myself in the shoes of these children and how they would react to certain situations, rather than an adult. Also, it so difficult to direct some of the desperate situations the hostages experienced, like dehydration and hallucinations – when I have never experienced them myself.

The Splendid is a small and intimate space – how is this different from a conventional theatre?
The Splendid is a very fitting space for this piece. The fact that it is small and intimate lends itself perfectly to the claustrophobic and tight space where the siege unfolded – the Beslan school gymnasium. I am sure this will contribute much to the atmosphere and the audience will really feel part of the story.

What would you like audiences to take from their experience watching US/THEM?
I simply would like to remind them about Beslan and how all these innocent lives were taken away so unfairly. I also hope it will be a bit of an eye-opener as to how children deal with trauma.

And finally, given the subject matter, it must be tough shaking it off – what do you indulge in during your free time?
Currently I am seriously indulging in Nintendo; playing Super Mario every day after rehearsals! It’s become a perfect way to shake everything off and throw myself into a happy space!

US/THEM will be staged at The Splendid, Valletta, over two weekends between the 4-14 October. The shows will be held on Thursday 4 and 11, Friday 5 and 12, and Sunday 7 and 14 October at 8pm, as well as on Saturday 13 October at 7pm and 9pm. For further information and booking, please contact

Photography by Emma Micallef

Paula Fleri-Soler

Paula has a pedigree in TV and stage production (children's and family entertainment) and a passion for the arts. She's taken the reins on The Artists' Directory - Malta and the relevant content for the site.

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