The ravages of memory | Simone Spiteri

Award-winning playwright Simone Spiteri speaks to us about her company Du Theatre’s new production, Forget-Me-Not, which commemorates the group’s 10-year anniversary with, perhaps appropriately, a story about how memory shapes our lives.

Yosef Farrugia and Elise Ellul.
Yosef Farrugia and Elise Ellul.

This play is something of a comeback for Du Theatre. What would you say you've learnt during your 'hiatus'?

It actually hasn't been a hiatus at all. We have worked solidly for the last two years since Kjaroskur although with different guest performers, directors as well as an exciting foray into new performance territory with our collaboration with Żigużajg and Il-Ħajja Xejn ta' Teenager jismu Julian.

The core group of five girls still works behind the scenes on a production level. Production decisions are taken together but with the original members currently experiencing motherhood the company has had to re-invent itself and branch out to even further collaborations with other performers and artists.

What spurned you to write about the dynamics of memory?

It's something that has always fascinated me - I find memories to be so ephemeral: cruel when they reconnect you with nostalgic moments always an inch within your grasp or relentless and annoying when they assault you with things you'd rather not remember. I was also intrigued by how intangible specters of images, scents or sounds are the only things that stay on in our heads and how we lose the ability to recreate them - how the energy expended in creating them detaches itself from us.

How two or more people who might have created a moment together might drift apart but the memory of them together lingers on somewhere in the universe without needing them to stay together for it to exist.

I also lost my two remaining grandparents in quick succession last summer.

One grandparent was completely immobile by the time he passed away - but sharp of mind, so recounting memories of his life was the only final thing he could cling to.

The other grandparent died of severe dementia, and could not even remember who I was but suddenly started speaking about things that had happened to her as a child or young adult which I had never heard her speak of before. Forget-Me-Not is not about either's story... but working on the piece sure drove the idea of the importance of memory home... and I still hope it pays tribute to both in some way.

Given that this play also commemorates Du's 10-year anniversary, what would you say are some of your dearest memories of the company so far? What about things you wish you'd done differently? And how does Forget-Me-Not express where you are right now as a company?

Du has been part of my life for a third of my existence so far... so the past 10 years represent a growth for my colleagues and I in every sense of the word. I'm not one to believe in regrets, and knowing that we have worked hard and honestly every step of the way - success, mistakes et al - is enough to make me proud of what we have achieved.

I think that being a group of people who genuinely like each other, are very grounded, do this work for the love of the job itself and always work towards the same aim is what has become our strong point. We have become women together, travelled a fair bit, shared our work and ideas with thousands of people from different walks of life and cultures, created a life-long bond and still approach each new project with the same degree of excitement as we did 10 years ago.

Forget-Me-Not is a new phase for us - we're more mature in the themes we're tackling and the technique and style with which we approach what we want to say... but it's also a continuation of yet another tiny step in a very long staircase that we have been building together over this last decade.

The fondest memories are perhaps the trivial domestic parts of our collective experiences - rehearsing overnight and ordering pizza at 2am, sleeping 10 to a room in some dingy hostel somewhere abroad while performing in a festival, that group hug before we make our entrance on stage right before curtain up, squeezing hands with pride during a nice curtain call.

Some of the upcoming local plays of the season deal with political themes - or, at least, pick up on concerns related to current affairs in Malta such as gay marriage or adoption. How does Forget-Me-Not compare to this more political approach? Would you say you engage in a more abstract (or universal) form of storytelling?

I don't think it's a case for comparison really. A strong theatre calendar should be diverse and I think this season certainly falls in that category.... a good and healthy thing for Malta and high time we started speaking about these issues.

We don't engage in an 'abstract/universal form of story telling' as a style per se really for the simple reason that even the most political/comic/abstract of pieces has to have strong roots in universal story telling with believable three dimensional characters inhabiting it if it is to achieve its maximum effect and strike a resonant chord with its audience.

We have quite a diverse and eclectic body of work and our recent pieces have been anything but abstract - the last two Francis Ebejer-winning plays I wrote and which the company produced were both set in Malta and relied heavily on characters grappling with a 21st century existence in a tiny claustrophobic context as our islands tend to sometimes be.

We just like to tell good stories about what it is to be human and whatever the style, context or setting we choose we try and present them in as honest and raw a way as we possibly can. I am a firm believer in telling the right story at the right time (for the person writing and creating it) and this year was time for me to devise Forget-Me-Not with my team.

I've learnt not to set our style or how we present what we want to say in stone and to always choose to write about something because you feel like you have to speak about it at that time. I think that as a writer I should write what I am passionate about at the time of writing. So who knows - a political theme or hotly debated current affair might be lurking somewhere in the recesses of my brain and waiting to be jotted down on paper... when it's time to write it I will definitely go for it.

Forget-Me-Not will be staged at MITP Theatre, St Christopher's Steet, Valletta on February 15, 16, 21-23. Bookings: [email protected], 21 223200.