Azzopardi fumes over ‘wave of hate mail’ for political play Il-Kap Tal-Oppożizzjoni

Theatre producer Mario Philip Azzopardi hits out at critics and complains over ‘five pages of cuts’ to script that Manoel Theatre first rejected 

Mario Philip Azzopardi
Mario Philip Azzopardi

Film and theatre producer Mario Philip Azzopardi has a half-hearted apology to make, and then only just. By his own admission, he has made “ill-advised comments” on social media in the last decade that served to cement the perception for his dislike of the opposition, and his loyalty to the Labour party he served in their 2013 election campaign.

But that is as much as Azzopardi can muster as Staġun Teatru Malti’s latest production, Il-Kap Tal-Oppożizzjoni, attracts the expected barrage of accusations against the film director, who has complained of a “wave of hate mail, personal insults and accusations of government collusion in underhand propaganda.”

Azzopardi, whose last production Ix-Xiħa was spiked by Teatru Manoel over public outrage on a character who appeared to lampoon the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, said he is already facing his detractors’ wrath now that the Manoel Theatre will host his latest play at end-April.

Azzopardi’s scurrilous ‘Daphne’ character enrages critics and leads to leak of script

In a statement to the press, Azzopardi complained of being targeted for his role in crafting Labour’s 2013 campaign videos. “That, on its own, is enough to condemn me to Nationalist hell,” Azzopardi said in a statement. “Over the years I took to Facebook with some, to say the least, ill-advised comments which gave vent to further Nationalist disdain and censure. My public retraction of most comments did not help much. The local media followed up with a constant barrage of opposition against my extensive work in film, TV, and theatre.”

Azzopardi says his political play ‘The Opposition leader’ is about the human cost for a politician’s family and friends. “It’s a fact that the Labour Party in Malta can simply override the opposition, which is in tatters and is ineffective, except to hysterically run after scandal and eye-popping misdemeanours,” Azzopardi says in his statement.

He even makes a reference to the scandal embroiling former Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar with her WhatsApp chats with magnate Yorgen Fenech, the latter accused of masterminding the assassination of Caruana Galizia. “Running after an MP’s sexual exploits is more important than dealing with issues that affect the common wellbeing. That is what the play is about. But for the trolls that invaded our website – forcing the deletion of some potentially libellous statement – this had to be a blatant attack on the Nationalist party. It is not,” he said.

Despite the drop in Azzopardi’s stock with critics, the theatre producer’s Staġun Teatru Malti’s productions have constantly delivered positive attendances at the Manoel Theatre. Now he thinks he is a victim of censorship, after the Manoel’s directors first rejected his script outright.

“Most board members had not even read the script when they initially voted to reject the play… If that does not scare the proponents of free speech, then nothing will,” Azzopardi said, saying he later consented to five pages of cuts. “I had to compromise or, again, a year’s work was going to end down the drain… for [the Manoel Theatre] a play that could be so bold as to criticize the opposition, make fun of the ruling party, and make references to actual people in power is an absolute no-no.  To hell with an author’s God-given right of free expression.”

Azzopardi’s Staġun Teatru Malti was granted an annual €20,000 grant by the finance ministry in 2014, for five years, to develop a minimum of three original theatrical scripts in Maltese annually. The grant was administered by Teatru Manoel as part of an allocation of its own budget for the indicated purpose.