Focused intensity | Stephen Oliver

Stepping on to Maltese shores, UK director Stephen Oliver is facing a particular challenge. Under the Masquerade Theatre banner – and at their trademark venue, M Space in Msida – he will be directing Festen, a stage adaptation of the Danish film of the same name. We speak to him about taking on the legacy of the Thomas Vinterberg family drama.

How do you feel about adapting a script which forms the basis of an already renowned and critically acclaimed film? What will viewers who have already seen the film get out of the play, in particular?

Fortunately David Eldridge adapted the film script into a play for its UK premiere. When the film Festen was made, a group of avant-garde filmmakers (of the ‘Dogme’ school) decided to break with tradition and strip filmmaking down to its essential basics, namely, using true light rather than artificial, real locations and not sets, no huge soundtrack and focusing entirely on characterisation and the storytelling.

I have tried to remain true to these ideals in directing the play. Festen is beautifully constructed as a play, allowing the audience to feel as if they are eavesdropping on a real story, told realistically.

What has it been like, rehearsing and preparing for the play in Malta? What can you say about the particular talent pool on the island, and how do you think this will translate in the intrinsic content of the play itself?

As the ‘new kid on the block’, it has been very exciting to work with actors previously unknown by me. I was extremely flattered that so many actors auditioned for me, making my role that much harder. I have had the opportunity to get out and see a lot of theatre in Malta and have been very impressed by the wealth of talent on the island. The cast is filled with some of the best of Malta's talent, including, Manuel Cauchi, Andre Agius, Steffan Cheriet Busuttil, Elektra Anastasi, Bettina Paris and Victor Debono together with Amanda Conroy from the UK and Antonio Rocco from Italy.

How would you describe M Space as a venue? Do you think it suits the needs of the play?

M Space is a perfect venue for Festen, the play would be lost on a large space. Festen is claustrophobic, intimate and M Space perfectly suits the play’s requirements. Being a new venue, Festen was the perfect choice to kick off an exciting new season of plays at M Space.

Festen will be staged at M Space, Mdina (opposite Junior College) on March 14-16 and 21-23. More information: