#BEZZJONI: Albert u Jane Marshall

Photo: Elisa Von Brockdorff

A few Mondays ago, as the Gozo Channel re-opened its doors we ventured to Xewkija on a cloudy afternoon to check in on the ever lovely Albert & Jane Marshall who got held up in Gozo right before lockdown.

There in a quaint alleyway we spotted their striking red door. Both asked if we had any trouble finding them but with a pretty door like that (and google maps on our side) we found their house in no time. Albert wondered why we were late but Jane was quick to remind him that we were in fact not late but on time, as we had sent another email which he must have just overlooked.

But such oversights are to be expected when you’re busy spending your days running the Arts Council over Zoom. Jane then shared her concerns about her unwatered plants over at their Malta home right before making sure they wouldn’t end up locked out of their house as they posed for this photo and shared their thoughts with us about life in COVID-19 times, as part of Teatru Malta’s series #BEZZJONI, a series of door to door encounters with Maltese theatre icons 

JANE MARSHALL is a veteran actress whose theatre and television career started in the 1960s. She remains known for her controversial and moving interpretation of Rita, the rebellious girl of the much celebrated Il-Madonna taċ-Ċoqqa.

People love Jane also for her roles in such popular television series as Ipokriti, F’Baħar Wieħed, Vaganzi f’Ħal Bla Ras, and others. Jane spent 15 years abroad in Australia where she was loved by the Maltese-Australian community for her work in the field of Maltese theatre in Maltese, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. Her most recent appearance on Maltese television was in the series Strada Stretta. Her Husband ALBERT MARSHALL is a writer, stage and television director, educator and broadcaster. Albert is considered as an artist responsible for various innovative ‘new waves’ in the domains of Maltese literature, theatre and television. Nowadays he holds high positions in the cultural and broadcasting sectors of this country.

Jane explains how her and her husband Albert’s life has been turned upside down – perhaps for the better…

“We got caught in Gozo when the first Covid-19 cases started emerging. We could have gone back to Malta but the medical advice was that we should stay here because both Albert and myself fall in the “vulnerable” category, or as Albert calls it, the “venerable”.

At first I was quite shaken and extremely anxious, especially when my thoughts would turn to my children and grandchildren who live so far away in Australia – they were supposed to come for a visit soon – in June… But everything’s been cancelled now and I don’t know when we’ll meet them again.

We’re lucky because the place where we got caught during lockdown is actually our house in Xewkija: Albert had and still has a great challenge to keep his complex work of the Arts Council and other duties going on online – endless telephone calls and countless virtual conferences. But at least he doesn’t have to dress smartly for work and I therefore don’t have to prepare his shirts every day!

Cleaning the house has taken on a new dimension because now I’m so preoccupied with cleaning and disinfecting the shopping that is so graciously delivered to our front door, rather than dusting and doing other general everyday chores.

Like everybody I’m dedicating a lot of time to cooking, and I’ve started trying to do a little bit of exercise every day and sometimes we go somewhere far and take a walk where we do not see or meet anybody.

But I still need to keep reminding Albert to wash his hands well; to do this and not do that – I’m driving him crazy!

With the arrival of Spring weather I started feeling much better: I accepted the situation and as a form of therapy I began to propagate plants and flowers and give them a great deal of attention.

I am also spending much time listening to music and drawing – long hours drawing – thanks to Mark, our son who lives in Australia, I’m working on a project. It’s been a long time since I did any drawing – from my school days in fact. And I’m also keeping a diary! This diary doesn’t contain any appointments with the hairdresser, or rehearsal times, or concert dates and a million other invitations to public cultural activities where one has to get all dolled up! I’m really loving this simple life.

But the thought of my children and grandchildren being so far away in Australia and the fact of not knowing when I will see them again makes me very sad.”

Albert adds his bit:

“Jane hinted at what my narrative is in these bizarre and extraordinary circumstances. I will only add that along with the hurt of missing my children and my children’s children (that for some reason I’m feeling more acute during these times) there’s another hurt – the fact that i’m separated from my beloved books. I do have some books in Gozo but it’s not my ‘library’. Without my books, the pain of isolation feels twice as strong. Even though, as Jane said, I am in constant contact with my colleagues and other people on my work benches, I still feel isolated (in a golden cage, if you will). Those who know me know that physical contact with my friends is an intrinsic characteristic of my behaviour – I just hug and kiss everyone with genuine affection. That’s how I am. On television I hear them say that we are never ever going to be able to be like that again: verboten… away… Margaret Atwood… I’m getting tired of staring at an inanimate screen, conducting virtual meetings and anaemic conversations. But at least I’m finding time to finish off some writing projects that were in different degrees of completion. I’m drafting some theatre work… and I’m thinking a great deal about how I’m going to spend my life now that this experience has forced me to face my inner thoughts and discuss what’s really essential and what isn’t. I feel like a novice priest on the eve of his entry into monastic life…

But deep in my heart I know that, because that’s how man is made, that when this obstacle is over, all the proposals and fantasies will blow away in an instant and we’ll be back to our routine and the norms that made us:

They’re calling it “the new normal” … if you’ll allow me, I’d like to add a word: “the new imagined normality”.