Lampooning the political 'monarchy' | Wayne Flask

First-time playwright and long-time satirist Wayne Flask speaks to us about the upcoming play Sibna z-Zejt, which imagines the Joseph Muscat government come 2036 – a sharp political farce which will feature a spectral appearance by the late Dom Mintoff as part of its drive to poke fun at what flask considers the ‘political monarchy’

Wayne Flask:
Wayne Flask: "There's been little change in politics since the days of Fenech Adami"

The premise of the play clearly takes its cue from the local political scene. But what was the real spark that got you started on actually writing the thing?

I’ve always had this fascination with the portrayal of Malta in a surreal future. When Mario Philip phoned me late on evening (disturbing my zen levitation session) offering me the opportunity to write for Staġun Teatru Malti, this idea of a dystopian Malta immediately came to mind. It was almost downhill from there.

Would you describe it as an ‘angry’ play, generally speaking? Does the satire come from any demons you may want to exorcise, in terms of the local political scene in particular and Maltese society in general?

I wouldn’t say the play is angry. Being angry would have kept me from writing anything of value, and from bringing across my message effectively. I think there’s a fine balance to be had between comedy and satire, in Sibna ż-Żejt I think I walked the line. The laughs are guaranteed; but I didn’t refrain from telling the various interested parties what I really think about them.

In Sibna ż-Żejt I’m taking a dizzying 360 view of Maltese politics, society and broadcasting; I’m interested in why there’s a certain mediocrity in the discourse and in the execution, and in the mentality. I’m interested in why everything goes. But trying to explain these things without using satire, without the laughs, would have reduced me to a wannabe academic. Which I’m not.

Was it a difficult play to write, and did you constantly monitor current events for cues and inspiration as you were writing it?

There’s always plenty of fodder. But, since this is happening in 2036 and I’ve been writing for over a year, I decided very early on not to focus on unique events. I was interested in the bigger picture, and trust me, a lot has come out of this approach.

Is this is a play about ‘Joseph Muscat’s Malta’ – thematically as well as literally? i.e., could you imagine writing the same play set in the context of a different administration?

Let’s say there a strong dose of satire about Muscatism, and not only in terms of government (I haven’t forgotten il-Partit). That said I struggle to see politics, or a particular administration, as operating separately from the workings of a particular society. I frankly think there’s been little change in politics since the days of Fenech Adami (‘Eddie’ vs ‘Joseph’ – all this first name familiarity with the PM huh?).

The players have changed and there are even less gentlemen in politics now than there were then; but the way of doing things is still there. We still have a bipartisan parliament, we still have a yes or a no, we still have a pitifully mediocre state broadcaster, economic wealth is still the holy grail, consumerism is alive and kicking, the developers are still an immensely powerful lobby and the environment is still the main loser. Sibna ż-Żejt is about monarchical politics, so possibly yes, I could do the same script about EFA or Mintoff, at a stretch.

Are you satisfied with what you've experienced of the production side of the play so far?

I’ve been very positively surprised. The cast has been adapting to the script very well, and you can tell by the buzz in the rehearsals. In terms of direction I trust Sean Buhagiar with my eyes closed and STM, as they do in all their productions, have invested heavily in the production aspect, from the score to the costumes to the set. It’s a bit of a field day for some of the production, technology in 2036 will be very different and they’ll be giving the Japanese robotics industry a few ideas.

How would you describe the local theatrical scene? What would you change about it?

I don’t know much about the politics of theatre and would rather stay out of them. One thing I feel, however, is the need for the local theatre to be more accessible to a wider audience. I think there’s way too much elitism, theatre (and part of the arts) seems to be restricted to a select few. After all in 2018 Valletta will be the Capital of Culture. Widening the scope doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of certain productions or going through a Xarabankisation of theatre where the loudest wins.

What’s next for you?

I’m presently shortlisting a few islands in case I need to go into voluntary exile. Suggestions welcome. Joking aside, I’ll be taking a break and then continue work silently on my debut novel, which has been on the backburner for quite a while and it’s still only crunchy on the outside. I’ve a bet as to whether the novel will be out before AD get a seat in Parliament.

Sibna z-Zejt is directed by Sean Buhagiar and produced as part of Stagun Teatru Malti. It will be staged at Manoel Theatre on May 15-17, 21-23 at 20:00, with two additional shows on May 24 at 15:00 and 20:00