The love that dare not speak its name? | Simon Bartolo

The upcoming gay adoption drama Jiena Nhobb, Inti Thobb has already sparked off a debate after it was attacked by a member of ‘gay conversion’ Christian group River of Love, and it hasn’t even been staged yet. We ask playwright Simon Bartolo whether he thinks the pre-emptive controversy will affect the outcome of the play.

Clare Agius, Roderick Vassallo and Davide Tucci.
Clare Agius, Roderick Vassallo and Davide Tucci.

Writing is a notoriously time-consuming endeavour that often requires a good amount of planning and trial-and-error. How did you reconcile the needs of the craft with writing something so topical?

Well, the first version of the play was ready last August, when we did a first reading with the actors. Since then, I have edited and rewritten and reedited incessantly. The final version of the play was completed on the first day of this year, by which time rehearsals were already underway. The short version is that when I'm working on a project, I don't sleep until it's done.

The play has already evoked a strong reaction from certain more conservative quarters of the Maltese social media web - and it hasn't even been staged yet. How does this make you feel, and are you bracing yourself for an even stronger reaction after the curtain goes up?

A lot of people are saying that the diatribe against the play was a blessing in disguise and that may indeed be the case as far as ticket sales are concerned. However, as the author, I feel cheated because so much is being said about the supposed controversy at the expense of a serious discussion about the text itself which nobody has actually seen. The play is already being judged positively or otherwise on the merits of TV programmes and YouTube comments. I am worried that audience opinion might be influenced by the whole debate surrounding the play. But there is obviously no going back now, we'll just have to wait and see.

I really don't understand why for the person who made that YouTube clip against the play and others like him, homosexuality has to be associated with paedophilia. I guess it must be a stubborn form of ignorance that nothing can change.  This is a grossly mistaken and hugely damaging belief, which confuses adult consensual relations with adult abuse of children.

READ MORE: Backlash to gay adoption play boosts promotion, inspires ridicule

What is it about gay adoption that makes it so ripe for drama? Do you think the play could effect real change or influence public opinion?

I honestly don't know if my play can influence public opinion but that wasn't my main intention. The aim was to incite debate about the subject and I guess it has done so already, which can't be a bad thing. In the play itself there are characters in favour of surrogacy and characters against. There are characters who agree with gay parenting and others who do not. In my writing I have tried to be impartial. Even though I, like everybody, have my own views, I have tried to give a voice to both sides. What I do put down is hatred. Historically many categories of people have been the object of grossly unjust and irrational discrimination - women, black people, the left-handed... the list goes on. Homosexuality is no different. This attitude just doesn't make sense and has no place in a modern, inclusive society.

Original scripts by Maltese playwrights are hard to come by. What needs to be done (or what do you think needs to happen) for them to become the rule rather than the exception?

I think that we're slowly moving in the right direction. Jiena Nħobb, Inti Tħobb is my second Maltese play of the season, the other one being Għajn Eye Three, which was well-recieved by a younger audience during the Żigużajg festival at the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity last November. As one of the evaluators during the latest edition of the Premju Francis Ebejer playwriting competition, I must say that, although there were a few abysmal entries, there were some very promising ones too. Prospective dramatists need to remember that language is just one aspect of good drama. I strive to be topical, current, and yes, why not, a little controversial.

Jiena Nħobb, Inti Tħobb will be staged at the Manoel Theatre on Feburary 7 to 10. Bookings: [email protected], 21 246389.