‘You can’t go wrong with Moliere’ | Simone Spiteri

Ahead of the theatre company’s Maltese-language production, Il-Marid Immaginarju (from the Moliere classic comedy), we speak to actress and Du Theatre co-founder Simone Spiteri about adapting this enduring social farce to the local scenario

Simone Spiteri: “I’ve got a lot to say” (Photo: Droo Rizz)
Simone Spiteri: “I’ve got a lot to say” (Photo: Droo Rizz)

Why did you choose this particular play for your latest project?

Il-Marid Immaginarju came to us in quite a serendipitous manner. After Forget-Me-Not last year we were all pretty worn out from six months of working on something literally from the ground upwards – the devising process can be pretty punishing. So since we didn’t want to work on another entirely devised piece we all agreed to go for an adaptation of a classic text which we’d been meaning to go back to for a few years, since Medea, and – even more importantly, try something we, as Dù, had never quite fully explored: comedy, in Maltese.

So after months of reading, discussing and researching we literally stumbled, at the eleventh hour, on a fantastic and hilarious translation of Moliere’s Le malade imaginaire from the 1980s by George Cassola. It took one reading and we immediately knew that this was the play that ticked all the boxes we wanted to tick. It was funny, smart, witty, extremely relevant despite it being almost 350 years old, gives any actor working on it a run for his money... and it’s Moliere! You can’t go wrong with Moliere.

What were some of the challenges of adapting Moliere – and particularly his humour – onto a contemporary Maltese scenario?

The humour, actually, works wonderfully in Maltese in the smoothest and most natural manner. Maltese and French expressions of humour seem to work well together and during the first reading phase as a cast we couldn’t believe that some of the passages we were working on had been translated word for word from their French (300-plus year old, no less!) counterpart – and not uttered by a twenty-first century speaker – especially since we’re setting our version in 2015 Malta. There was very little that we tweaked to help the text settle better on a modern ear.

Moliere’s greatness lies in the fact that even three centuries after he wrote this masterpiece his words still manage to cut to the chase and expose human nature for what it is: in this play’s case – obsessive and abusive. Il-Marid Immaginarju is about Argan’s obsession with being sick and the lengths those around him go to abuse of that obsession for their own benefit.

It’s about greed, quackery, gullibility, deception and the political exploitation constantly going on in the medical world’s underbelly. There was absolutely nothing we changed in that respect... all you need to do is look through daily newspapers, TV and the internet and realise that absolutely nothing has changed.

How did you go about selecting the cast? What were some of the main criteria you kept in mind?

This is probably the most diverse Du cast to date. We’re nine actors with a very interesting mix of backgrounds, experiences and strengths. It’s an exciting mix of talent and comic magic; the chemistry and dynamism is electric among the cast members and the thing I love the most about it is that we’re a group of actors few people would have ever imagined or thought of putting together in the same cast list.

And that, I believe, is the strongest thing about this production and what we were looking for during the casting process.

Du oldies such as myself, Magda and Franica get to work with classically trained actors like Jean-Marc Cafa, Pierre Stafrace and Daniel Azzopardi while at the same time learning so much from what I believe will be Chrysander Agius’ stellar performance as Argan under Chris Gatt’s razor-sharp direction.

What he is bringing to the table is incredible and a masterclass in fine comic performance. We are extremely lucky to be able to work hard, have fun and learn and be inspired by our co-workers. Which is what Du work has always been about. We don’t just want to produce plays – we want to learn and grow as we do them.

What do you make of the local theatrical scene at the moment? What would you change about it?

As we’ve said plenty of times over the last few years – there is definitely something happening. When I compare the scene now to when I founded the company 11 years ago it’s like looking at two different worlds.

There seems to be a growing interest in theatre, more people seem to want to be involved in it and more want to watch it.

As an educator I am particularly pleased with how things are shaping themselves in the world of theatre for the young while as a writer I would like to see more people put pen to paper and just go for it. I also want to see our audiences develop a stronger, more vocal sense of discussion and debate about art in general.

What’s next for Du?

There are two things on our horizon at the moment: as much travel as possible with our exportable repertoire and, perhaps, producing a new play I’m working on in 2016. It’s been a while since I’ve written a play for adults, and I’m really itching to get back to it and yearning to have the luxury of a few weeks drowned in my own head typing furiously on my keyboard. I’ve got a lot to say.

Il-Marid Immaginarju will be staged at City Theatre, Valletta on May 29, 30 and 31 at 20:00. Bookings: ticketline.com.mt, Embassy Cinema Box Office