‘I always wanted a space where actors and audience were close to the point of intimacy’ | Alfred Buttigieg

Staged in a private residence and promising ‘murder, eroticism, tea and wine’ to audience members who will be texted the exact location of its Gharghur venue upon purchasing a ticket, L-Interrogazzjoni is the long-gestating latest dramatic work by Alfred Buttigieg, TEODOR RELJIC speaks to the veteran playwright about the upcoming Teatru Malta production

First of all, how does it feel to be returning to drama after all these years? What is it about this play in particular that had you working at it for – apparently – four years straight?

I have been working on L-Interrogazzjoni on and off for the last four years, maybe longer. It took me so long because the different levels of reality and the characters’ transitions from one level to the other needed to be both seamless and easily perceptible so it was quite complex to write. But writing this particular play caused me so much frustration that at times I feared that I’ll never be able to finish it to my satisfaction. I never wanted it to be a straightforward crime thriller. It is normal for me to spend three or four years on the writing of each play. Besides, I am the kind of playwright who cannot work on a new project before the previous one has been brought to completion, in this case produced on stage and that was why only after Mela hawn xi manikomju? was performed in 2016 that I could get down to working on this play.

Was the ‘staged in a living room’ device always part of the project since conception, or was this something that was decided upon later?

It was the idea of Sean Buhagiar, Teatru Malta’s artistic director. He was always convinced that it should be performed in a living room. And he never budged from this even though it was becoming difficult to find the right venue. I was quite sceptical about having it performed in a private property, but when Teatru Malta eventually found this perfect property which is exactly the kind of residence my characters Martina and Stephanie would be living in, I was bowled over and embraced the whole idea. I always wanted a space where actors and audience were extremely close physically to the point of intimacy.

Beyond that, what would you say is the nub of this particular drama, and what do you hope the audience will get out of it?

Members of the audience might be surprised at the uncanny parallels with what happened in Malta these past few weeks where most of us wanted to move on from a ghastly murder but we were made to realise that there can be no healing of the wound unless the entire truth came out. The same has happened to Martina and Stephanie. A part of them longs to move on and forget but another part knows that they will never return to normality unless the truth is revealed. On the other hand, those who love theatre for its more artistic aspect might be struck by the sudden shift between reality and hypothesis.

How do you feel about Lee-N Abela taking on the directorial reins for this project?

All my full length plays have been directed by different directors. Michael Fenech directed Ir-Rewwixta tal-Qassisin in 1986 and 2005, Immanuel Mifsud directed Ippermettili Nitlaq in 2008, Dwar Menopawsi, minorenni u muturi high speed was directed by Malcolm Galea in 2012 and Mela hawn xi Manikomju?! was directed by Tyrone Grima in 2016. So as you can see, even if this play hadn’t been about two women, it was high time I had a woman directing my play. From the start I wanted Lee-N Abela to direct it. She has always been extremely enthusiastic about it. Over the years she has proven herself to be an artist full of energy and ideas. I’m sure that, just as I have always been pleasantly surprised by my directors’ interpretations of my works, I will be thrilled by hers.

What do you make of the cast, and what do you hope they will bring to your text?

I feel really lucky that TeatruMalta managed to cast Angele Galea and Clare Aguis for the leads. Angele was involved in my last four plays, three times as an actress and once as a set designer. I am also happy that Clare Agius is making her theatrical comeback with this play. I couldn’t be more delighted to have these two versatile and talented actresses and I’m sure they will transform the text into a lasting experience for the audience.

What do you make of the local theatrical scene? What would you change about it?

 In recent years theatre in Malta has widened its audience base. There are more independent theatre companies who are willing to experiment and with the founding of Teatru Malta theatre approaches are becoming bolder and more varied. My only concern is the lack of independent theatre critics who are knowledgeable enough and brave enough to offer constructive criticism instead of just praising everything out of fear of giving offence.

What’s next for you?

I’ve been working on a semi-autobiographical novella told from the point of view of an eighty-year old tortoise. This is a challenge for me as my last and only prose work was Gezzu, which was published 40 years ago. But as I said in the beginning, I don’t really knuckle down to a new work until the curtain falls on the previous one.

L-Interrogazzjoni will be staged in a private residence in Gharghur on February 7-10; 12, 14-16. Performances will begin at 8pm on all dates, with additional performances at 5pm on February 8, 9, 10, 15 and 16. L-Interrogazzjoni is a Teatru Malta production. Bookings: https://teatrumalta.org.mt/