From an abrupt and rude censorship act 30 years ago to a staggering full house for three nights starting this Friday: history has done justice to Mario Philip Azzopardi’s controversial satire banned from the Manoel Theatre and triggering his final decision to leave the islands for good to make an internationally-acclaimed career as film director.
It will be the same stage that treated him so badly more than three decades ago, of course now under a different management and in a radically changed landscape.
Or is it? Malta in 2008 is still, after all, subjected to the medieval censorship board that vets all plays and films to decide not only how to rate them age-wise but also what to cut from them; what’s fit to be seen for Maltese society and what isn’t. Precisely like 30 years ago.
The censorship practice has been condemned by the Council of Europe in its seminal dossier about Malta’s cultural policy, yet it is still there, mutilating plays and films in the name of public decency.
Yet that did not stop the Manoel Theatre’s General Manager, Judie Farrugia, from going an extra mile to not only make it a point that Azzopardi returns with his censored play, Sulari fuq Strada Stretta, but that the same theatre actually produces it.
“It’s only fair, after getting to know the story behind it, to stage this comedy,” Farrugia said yesterday at a meeting with journalists held at the Phoenicia Hotel.
“After I read the script I wanted to stage it immediately, so here we are. We have three nights’ full houses, something quite extraordinary when you consider how difficult it has been to attract audiences to view Maltese theatre.”
Indeed, the fact of having three full houses is an event in itself.
“All this enthusiasm for the play shows the thirst there is for Maltese theatre,” Azzopardi said yesterday. “I’m glad this play has broken the mould, this idea that Maltese theatre cannot be held at the Manoel. In reality, theatre is our real platform as Maltese where we can debate, dialogue, shock and offend. Unfortunately we have no cinematic industry – there’s the film servicing industry but no films are coming out of here. And there’s the television mediocrity, total mediocrity which I like to call intellectual pornography. That leaves us only with theatre to express our ideas.”
Sulari Fuq Strada Stretta is a comedy set days before the outbreak of the Second World War in an old Valletta palace where the last three members of a Maltese aristocratic family live on the top floor. A young man comes into their life who seems to be playing to their needs for some very ulterior motives. Each character represents a different part of the elite and stereo-typical members of society.