Third eye for the ghost guy | Simon Bartolo

Playwright and theatre director Simon Bartolo speaks to us about re-staging his play Ghajn Eye Three after its stint on the Ziguzajg children’s festival. The play, which focuses on a dysfunctional group of school teachers following the elusive prompts of a ghostly pupil, will be performed at St James Cavalier on April 11 and 12.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
7 April 2015, 7:44am
Clockwise from top: Coryse Borg, Gilbert Formosa, Roderick Vassallo and John Suda. Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff
Clockwise from top: Coryse Borg, Gilbert Formosa, Roderick Vassallo and John Suda. Photo by Elisa von Brockdorff
The play presents a unique, quirky scenario with a group of interesting characters. What sparked off the idea, and how did you decide on this particular situation to base your play on?

It was a mix of things that I was going through at the time when I was writing it, during summer 2013. I love ghost stories and I also like a good comedy. Għajn Eye Three is neither and yet it is a little bit of both. I wanted to have fun with it and I did. Judging from the reactions of the actors themselves as well as previous audiences, it actually is quite a lot of fun.

Were there any social and/or psychological issues you wanted to delve into before you started writing this play? And how did you seek to tailor them for a young audience?

I was originally commissioned to write the play for Żigużajg and the acceptance of humans by other humans was my guiding theme. The then director/producer suggested homosexuality as a topic for bullying at school. I was a bit ‘meh’ about that (also because I was writing the full-blown gay piece Jien Inħobb, Inti Tħobb). So I included it as a subject but made it just one of a range of issues. Plus I made one of the teachers gay, rather than a student. Also I removed the pity and sorrow and tragedy out of the whole idea and made the gay character funny and bitchy and terrible, because which minority wants to spend the rest of its liberated, emancipated existence being pitied?

Were there any didactic lessons you wanted to impart to the young viewers in particular? And what do you hope that adults will get out of it?

Oh, I’m allergic to didactic stuff. I spent 10 years as a teacher, now I’m just a writer. I don’t try to teach anything with my writing. However, the message I guess is that we are all complex and that nobody should be judged by just one specific character trait. But in fact we often make the mistake of thinking of others by whatever strikes us most about them. In Għajn Eye Three, each teacher has a specific “thing”: one is neurotic, one is gay, one is farty and the headmaster is addicted to his need for that cigarette he hasn’t smoked for the last 18 years. But, even though they don’t like each other, they discover that there’s more than meets the eye. And it takes a 13-year-old boy to show them. Well, actually the ghost, or memory, of that boy.

What was it like to debut the play at Żigużajg? What kind of reaction did you get from the audience, and will you be altering the play in any way for this run?

Żigużajg is a wonderful experience. For me it is the best thing to have happened in Malta since the arrival of toilet paper. Children can be the harshest critics but they can also show tonnes of appreciation, especially when they realise that the play is not in any way condescending. In this present incarnation of the play, one of the actors has changed and I rewrote one of the three scenes that make up the one-hour comedy. I felt that the final part was a little didactic (ugh). Now it’s braver and stranger and funnier. The audience will enjoy it more, I hope.

What’s next for you?

Well, I’ll be back for Żigużajg this year with my theatre group Aleateia and a new play for children. Also, there’s other plays in the pipeline and a couple of projects for publication too.

The cast of Ghajn Eye Three includes John Suda, Roderick Vassallo, Coryse Borg, Gilbert Formosa and Jamie Cardona. For more information log on to sjcav.org

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...