I should like to think that not many audiences have experienced the embarrassment felt by those clapping at the end of Aeschylus’ The Suppliants on Monday 29 June. The Greek theatre at Ta’ Qali was a desert; just 29 of us in the semicircle. The rest were unwanted seats staring sadly at the packed stage. Ours was a genuine applause for a polished and enjoyable production, yet we had this uneasy feeling that the actors could not even hear us.
It was some time since we had seen a Greek play and the ones we could remember, even though not as professionally produced as this one, had always attracted packed theatres. Here, the chants of the choruses and the choreography alone must have entailed a considerable amount of work. It was an opportunity that should not have been missed.
So what went wrong this time round? Was it the dates chosen? Well, picking days when the annual Trade Fair is on a few metres away, was not exactly a prize-winning idea; for parking reasons if for no other. Had there been 529 of us, some 500 would have given up and opted for a pizza somewhere far.
At the end of the play a few of us gathered round one of the troupe to congratulate him and almost to ask forgiveness for the miserable turnout. But there was no consoling the man; he nearly choked on the bitterness of his words.
He lamented that there had been a very poor build-up and practically no publicity for the event. One of us immediately commented that the day before he had in fact looked up the Sunday Times to see what time the play was on and found no reference to it at all; he had though found a very short note in MaltaToday. A female voice chimed in adding that she too had not found any information on the website of the Italian Cultural Institute nor on the What’s on in Malta website.
So the Italian Government and the Maltese-Italian Chamber of Commerce bring over the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico at what was probably considerable expense; accepting the invitation to Malta the Istituto possibly turns down other venues; and then they are made to suffer this humiliation: in two nights not more than 60 people go to watch them.
We Maltese had this opportunity to watch a 2500-year-old Greek play with themes very relevant to our times, produced by a professional group, and missed it. Will we now say that the Maltese show no interest in this type of cultural event?
Or could it be that it had indeed received less than minimal publicity? I believe that what those two persons in the group said is answer enough; a confirmation came from some others who admitted that they had come to know about the play only because they received complimentary tickets. At least these were the genuine theatre lovers who had appreciated the tickets. Many others apparently did not. At the risk of sounding flippant I dare suggest that in future one could try limiting the number of ‘complimentaries’ to the “strictly indispensable” and selling the first ‘n’ tickets at half price. This should increase the attendance and the proceeds could be allocated to more publicity.
One should not allow the sense of shame experienced by that night’s audience and the humiliation inflicted on the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico to be passed on to the Maltese public. And one sincerely hopes that such unhappy instances do not recur.