Interview: Aldo Brincat’s The Moon Looks Delicious from Here– triggering the audience into remembering their heritage; to reflect on their past in autobiographical play

The Moon Looks Delicious From Here – Cape Town premiere season

When: March 16, 17 at 6.45pm, March 18 at 2.30pm and March 19 at 6pm
Writer/performer: Aldo Brincat
Director: Sjaka Septembir
Age advisory: PG 13
Duration: 70 minutes

Creative Aldo Brincat grew up in Durban and has travelled and worked and lived in other provinces in South Africa, in Africa and abroad. Where is home for him- emotionally and physically? Well, in 2023- he lives in the Cape and is studying for a Masters in visual art at the University of Stellenbosch so that is where his abode is at the moment. In his multi-faceted career he has moved seamlessly between disciplines which include visual artist, magician, clown, ballet dancer. He no longer does ballet, however he relishes multi-disciplinary work, as evidenced from his current preoccupation with dovetailing visual art and theatre. When I discovered that Brincat’s late father was a famous magician in Durban, Mabrini the Magician, I was intrigued and asked Brincat to give insights into The Moon Looks Delicious from Here. The semi-autobiographical play was inspired by his family, has magic at his centre (love that) and led him to explore the “current psyche as contemporary South Africans” as we grapple with “migration, identity and belonging.”

Stage magic

You come from a family of “stage magicians”? Where were you born? In Durban? 

Aldo Brincat: My father and my grandfather were both born in Alexandria, Egypt, from Maltese heritage. My father immigrated to South Africa in the early 50s, as did my mother. My mother’s family fled the impending independence of Mauritius. She was born in Mauritius. My parents met in Durban. My older brother and I were born in Durban.

The Moon Looks Delicious From Here (TML) is built around a single family heirloom; a magic trick which was passed down from my grandfather, to my father, then to me. In my hands, this magic trick opened many doors for me, and brought great prosperity to me and my own fledgling family.

However, there was tragedy: My father, was a very famous stage magician back in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s in Durban. His stage name was Mabrini the Magician. At the end of one of his most triumphant performances, he had a fatal heart attack on stage, during his curtain call. I believe this coincided with the heavy sanctions imposed on South Africa, which had resulted in him losing his day job, which he adored and held for 20 years.

My father was dearly loved and a big part of the magic scene in Durban, particularly the SAMS, South African Magic Society. His day job was as a chef and canteen manager for a ship building firm – James Brown and Hammer. It later became Dorbyl. There were sanctions imposed in the ship building business, in South Africa and in many other industries due to sanctions in the early and mid-80s.

Migration, identity and belonging – current psyche as contemporary South Africans

When is TML set – the time frame?

Aldo Brincat: A decade after my father’s death, I was invited to perform the stage magic which he had taught me, for party for Nelson Mandela. We didn’t go on stage but it was great to be part of the celebrations.  TML is set on the eve of my performance for Nelson Mandela, in 1996. It is a deliberately crafted reflection which hopefully sheds light on our current psyche as contemporary South Africans, and the ongoing debate of migration, identity and belonging. In my production of TML, I have changed the story of my father’s passing on stage for personal reasons, and to facilitate a more focused flow in my production.

Generational trauma- the stuff that is not talked about

The Moon Looks Beautiful from Here, is autobiographical in that it was seeded from your experiences and memories but aspects have been fictionalised and have been reconstructed, by a lot of what was NOT spoken about in the family?

Aldo Brincat: I am a first generation South African. Our family was volatile, unstable, and there was a lot of trauma. My mother fought her own demons – having lost four babies in various stages of pregnancies. My father was a young soldier World War II and witnessed the death of his own father. I have no recollection of any family discussions. However, I often wonder about their internal dialogue when my brother and I were being conscripted into the South African Defence Force – in relation to what they went through. By the time I was 17, both my parents were hollowed out shells of the people that I remembered as a child.

Intersectionality of our identity

The zeitgeist at the moment is very much unease and uncertainty – with people leaving South Africa and many returning. Worldwide, there is a great deal of people trying to hold onto to their identities, cultures, family and nationhood- or shed it all and begin again. You grapple with this in the play?

Aldo Brincat: Absolutely correct. People have always had reason to leave South Africa. Interestingly enough, on my recent return to SA from an art residency in India, I met quite a few people from all over the world who had recently chosen to make South Africa their home. My production is a response to the growing intersectionality of our identity. While migrancy and refugee-ism is the contemporary focus, I have chosen my own story as a vehicle through which to examine these issues afresh.   

Seeding the title

How did the fabulous title originate: The Moon Looks Delicious From Here?

Aldo Brincat: My father was a remarkable, popular and much loved man.  I owe him a lot. One of his most charming characteristics, was his thick foreign accent and (not so) poor, yet incredible use of the English language. My father spoke, read and wrote seven languages well. But every now and then, a poetic blunder would come out, and often it was hilarious if not charming. The moon looks delicious from here, is one such example. That simple sentence sparked my imagination as a child and planted the seeds of travel into my soul.

The prompt to write the play

What prompted you to write it now? When did you write/conceive the piece?

Aldo Brincat: TML came about when two lifelong friends and fellow thespians also from Durban, Ashley Dowds and Rajesh Gopie, attended the launch of my solo art exhibition Chasing Concrete Halos, in Cape Town in 2021. The exhibition looked at commemoration and monumentalisation and their possibility to redeem. We each realised we were all first generation South Africans and we decided to commemorate our heritage with a short 30 minute monologue, using a family heirloom as the basis from which to write.  We staged our monologues in January 2022 at Erin Hall to a rapturous response from a sold out audience. I proposed to my friends Ashley and Rajesh that I felt compelled to expand my script and to take it on the road, an idea they both supported and blessed. 

Otherness in one’s home country

You are currently a Masters student of Visual Arts at Stellenbosch University? So you have relocated from Durban to Cape Town? A lot of time, out of Africa and now you are in Cape Town. Wow – that is a lot?

Aldo Brincat: I spent 12 years working as an artist, performer, writer and teacher in Gaborone, Botswana. I repatriated to Cape Town in 2018 to be closer to my two grown up children, and to reinvent myself. Cape Town is not my city and I experienced a crisis of identity. I had also lost touch with South Africa and I had a growing sense of ‘otherness’ – of being an alien. The success of TML, along with the planned road trip, has helped me tremendously in overcoming this anxiety.

Memory is shaped into monuments

You are doing a Masters in in visual at Stellenbosch. What is the focus of your degree? Will TML, form part of your degree?

Aldo Brincat: TML was created during my Masters in Visual Arts at Stellenbosch University, so it must form a part of my eventual thesis. It has prompted me to consider the role of text- more precisely Crafted Script- as a commemorative marker. While we know theatre plays become archives – representative of the time in which they were written and performed, TML also becomes an ode, or an homage to my ancestry. I shall be exploring this matter in my thesis which deals with how Memory is shaped into Monuments and how they hold up to deliberate denigration and/or entropy, and the ever changing gaze of the viewer.

Crafted text based physical theatre –drawing on memories

There is magic, clowning, mime, physical theatre in the Moon. Is there a script or is it a series of vignettes? Readers ask me frequently – ‘is it a play?’ I understand that you may not want to pigeon hole the piece- your thoughts?

Aldo Brincat: TML is finely crafted text based physical theatre. To me, this means the dense script has been learnt, alongside a highly choreographed physical landscape. It is a play which consists of a series of memories expounded through dialogue between characters. Traditional theatre play scripts use the terminology “scene 1, scene 2, etc”. I propose the terms “memory 1” or “moment 2”. It is important to reconfigure this terminology as it is my hope to trigger my audience into remembering their heritage; to reflect on their past.  

Illusion: Aldo Brincat uses a magic heirloom trick in his play, The Moon Looks Delicious From Here. The trick was inherited from his late father, Mabrini the Magician, a famous magician in Durban. Pic supplied.
Family memories: The wedding of Aldo Brincat’s parent, Mario Brincat and Marie Arnulphym in 1956 at the Assumption Parish in Durban. They arrived (from different countries) to South Africa in 1954. After 18 months in their new country, they got married. Marie had fled Mauritius and Mario had left his birth place, Alexandria, Egypt, for South Africa. Mario was a famous stage magician and went by the name, Mabrini the Magician. He died on stage, during a performance. Magic is core to Aldo Brincat’s play, The Moon Looks Beautiful from Here. It is autobiographical in that it was seeded from his experiences and memories of his family but aspects have been fictionalised and he has reconstructed a narrative, inspired by a lot of what was NOT spoken about in the family. Pic supplied.

❇ This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: Images of Aldo Brincat – supplied.