Play inspired by Daniel Holmes, arrives at Blue Box Theatre this March

Laura Calleja speaks to playwright Alfred Buttigieg about the creation of L-Arrest ta’ Danny Weed, inspired by the event of Welshman Daniel Holmes

What was the inspiration behind L-Arrest Ta' Danny Weed?

I’ve always felt a deep sense of injustice about the treatment of Daniel Holmes. He was a Welshman living in Malta who in 2011 was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for cultivating a few cannabis plants. It is true that he was breaking the law as it was then, but the sentence, in my opinion, was excessive. In his book, Daniel Holmes: A Memoir From Malta’s Prison, Holmes occasionally jokes about his experience but it was definitely no laughing matter. Daniel Holmes’ friend Barry Lee committed suicide while in prison awaiting trial for exactly the same charges connected to the same case. It is largely thanks to activists’ furore over this disproportionate sentence that cannabis for personal use was eventually decriminalised.

This is what gave birth to Danny Weed, a character who is arrested for a similar reason. I have to say though that Danny Weed’s is a different story. Some might raise an eyebrow at the idea of writing a farce out of this painful experience. But another source of inspiration for this play is Dario Fo’s Accidental Death Of An Anarchist. This farce also uses laughter to lash out at corrupt and unscrupulous police considered responsible for the, nominally a suicide, of a man held under arrest. Fo transformed this real-life tragedy and outrage into a farce but that does not mean it is any less scathing.

Playwright Alfred Buttigieg
Playwright Alfred Buttigieg

What can the audience expect from the production?

The play is being advertised as a farce. So, the audience should expect to laugh its heart out. Humour has always been part of my plays. I’ve always been allergic to solemnity and melodrama. Yet all my plays, including this one, do raise serious issues, and I find humour the best vehicle to reach the audience while still making the point I want to make. In fact, there is a University of Malta thesis (in Maltese) called ‘The humorous aspect in three plays by Alfred Buttigieg’. But this is the first time I’ve set out to write a farce, I mean with the key elements of what makes a good farce: fast-paced action, glorious slapstick and physical comedy. I believe nowadays we need the catharsis of laughter more than ever and I think this play will provide it.

Are there any specific themes or topics that interest you and that you often explore in your works?

My maxim as a writer is: ‘Never repeat myself’ because I see no point in writing otherwise. Each of my plays is completely different from my previous works. My themes vary from political topics to issues that almost nobody wants to talk about. My first play Ir-Rewwixta tal-Qassisin is a treatise on political power. It incites audiences to distrust anyone who wields it. Ippermettili Nitlaq deals with ethical issues in medicine or the lack of them. It asks, is life really always a gift, whatever the circumstances?

What if we were to ask the people who are forced to live life with very different health conditions from ours? Dwar Menopawsi, Minorenni u Muturi High-speed is a dark comedy which looks at the forces unleashed by a couple’s reaction to middle age as they struggle against the narrowing horizons of their lives. Mela Hawn xi Manikomju? invites the audience to contemplate human beings’ experience of homesickness, grief, lack of freedom, abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, memory and death.  L-Interrogazzjoni is about the aftermath of a murder cover-up but also about a deeply complex romantic relationship.

How do you feel when one of your plays is performed?

Filled of dread and joy. Because only during that hour, only during that span of time for which it is being performed, does the play truly exist as a play. Like any playwright, I think of my playwriting as an act of communication. And it is the people in the audience who make this act complete. Their response – be it enjoyment, insight, boredom, anger or rejection – breathes life into the play. So, it is always a moment of satisfaction for me. One thing that always strikes me is that sometimes the audience reacts differently from the way I expected them to, especially when it comes to laughter. There will be some moment which I’d have intended as quite sad, contemplative, melancholic, which is however met with laughter and applause. Or they root for a character I hadn’t intended as likeable. Audiences are alive and human and therefore unpredictable. It’s always an enriching experience to see my writing taking on a life of its own, independent of me, and being taken over by others who give it their own interpretation.

What was the most challenging thing about writing L-Arrest Ta' Danny Weed, and why?

The most challenging thing was definitely the attempt at writing a farce. I’d never done it before so I wasn’t sure where the journey was taking me. I think my usual humour is quite subtle. I hate overdoing anything. However, a farce has to be exaggerated by its very nature. So, I had to go against the grain in a way. Unusually for me, it didn’t take me long to finish my first draft which I wrote undisturbed at my Marsaskala flat during the winter of 2022. But it was far from finished. I felt it was ready for an audience only after the feedback I got from a reading of the play. I have to thank all those who braved the floods during a huge storm last autumn to attend. They gave me such valuable feedback. Thanks to that, I even introduced a sixth character.

What are your thoughts on staging the play?

I insert very few stage directions, to allow the director the freedom to convey his or her own interpretation of my script. In fact, I normally watch my plays for the first time during the dress rehearsal and hardly ever intervene. I am co-producing ‘L-Arrest ta’ Danny Weed’ with director Michael Fenech but I still leave the staging decisions in Michael’s hands. As a co-producer, my role is to take care of practical details and lend support. I can only say that there’s an enormous amount of work involved, to say nothing of a great deal of worry. Only your love for the theatre keeps you going. Unfortunately, because of Malta’s size, one can only ever have short runs, too short to make up for all the preparation and trouble. It’s always saddening when a run comes to its end. Is it worth it? I’m not sure. After every play, I always swear to myself that it will be the last.

The play will be performed at the Blue Box Theatre, Msida on 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 March 2023. Michael Fenech will be directing and the cast will be made up of Audrey Scerri, Chris Spiteri, James Ryder, Matthew Sant, Simon Curmi and Sean Briffa. Tickets can be purchased at This project is supported by Arts Council Malta.