Commissioner to Kappillan | Peter Busuttil

We speak to former film commissioner and director of the upcoming Stagun Teatru Malti production, The Kappillan of Malta, adapted for the stage from the popular Nicholas Monsarrat novel by Immanuel Mifsud.

Pino Scicluna as Dun Salv, 'The Kappillan of Malta'
Pino Scicluna as Dun Salv, 'The Kappillan of Malta'
Peter Busuttil
Peter Busuttil

How did it feel to return to the theatre following your stint as Film Commissioner? Did you find it difficult at first?

Theatre, film and TV have always been an essential part of my career of the past 30 years (practically in that order). I think each role stimulates the other, and I approach each of them with the necessary attitude that it would require. I never stopped engaging in any of those roles; from direction, to administrative creative roles, to being what I have least time to do – an actor. So, rather than it being difficult or starting over, it is a continuation. What was certainly different and refreshing is having the support of a production company that allows you to concentrate solely on the creative and artistic aspects of the production.

You’ve collaborated with Pino Scicluna in the past. What do you enjoy about working with him, and how would you describe his take on the role of the Kappilan?

Pino and myself have been working together since the early 80s, where we first brought to the stage Dario Fo’s masterpiece Accidental Death of an Anarchist, The History Mystery Malta Happening Show (an animated journey through Maltese history), and other productions which we devised from a house in Mosta, where we spent most of our time. I moved to Italy and Pino followed me to Milan, where we took up a space and transformed it into a theatre venue – not only for us, but also for other emerging theatre companies. That space in Viale Bligny 22 still exists today (it was formerly a space where the La Scala sets where painted). Throughout Italy we performed a number of original works in Italian, which were mainly written around our persona and included a theatre piece, ‘Willy’, about the life and works of William Shakespeare.
Back in Malta, we brought over for the first time ever the Maltese version of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and original pieces like Grazzi Francis, while we also performed together with other theatre companies. We had a common friend in Francis Ebejer (to whom we dedicated Ghaziz Francis) and it’s interesting  to point out that Ebejer specifically wrote Gahan ta’ Bingemma as a response to Pino’s acting techniques.
What I like about Pino is primarily the energy and work attitude, which is something we have in common: our ability to master the text and verbalise it correctly. I will not say who the culprit is… but we lose in words, we certainly make up in interpretation.

Were you daunted by the task of adapting such a popular and widely read book as the Kappillan of Malta? How did you find Immanuel Mifsud’s translation?

I studied the book while studying for my first degree in education. I have always like the atmosphere is immerses the reader in. We hope to bring this to the stage. I think Immanuel has done a great job in selecting the moments which identify the Kappillan and which are salient moments of his life. This is a great book, and we hope that collectively we have done justice to Monsarrat and his legacy. Our performance is not the book – it is a live interpretation of an excellent narrative.

How do you feel about working with such a veteran ensemble of Maltese actors?

I am glad you describe them as a veteran ensemble, that says a lot about my age! I have been working with most of them before I left Malta in the late 80s, and we have always shared great experiences. What is interesting with this production is the other ensemble of young aspiring actors and actresses that are interacting with them on stage.

Would you say that the story at the core of the play remains relevant to contemporary Malta?

The story is relevant, not only to contemporary Malta but to the world: it is a story about an inspirational character who experiences success, despair and ultimately, redemption, all set against a tragic backdrop.

The Kappillan of Malta will be staged at Pjazza d’Armi, Fort St Elmo, Valletta on July 25-27, 30 and August 1. The play forms part of the Malta Arts Festival