Consider the consequences

Actress Pia Zammit speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about her role in The Memory of Water – a Masquerade production of Shelagh Stephenson’s Lawrence Olivier Award-winning comedy about the fraught dynamics of both sisterhood and memory

The female cast members of The Memory of Water (from left): Coryse Borg, Pia Zammit and Nadia Vella. Back: Kate De Cesare
The female cast members of The Memory of Water (from left): Coryse Borg, Pia Zammit and Nadia Vella. Back: Kate De Cesare

It’s been a turbulent year on the island, and this is your first go at a full-length play after yet another edition of the Comedy Knights satirical variety show. How does it feel to be “biting into” this new show?

Exciting. It’s a completely different pace and mood from the Comedy Knights’ yearly fare, so it keeps me on my toes. I get to play the same character for more than one scene – so that’s definitely a different challenge to hopping from character to character (and costume to costume) when doing a sketch show. The two shows are chalk and cheese – however, both have their different challenges, and both are fun and as always, a great learning curve. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Learning how to wear the skin of a different person. In a non-Ed Gein sort of way.

Speaking of the turbulent year... have recent events in Malta made you think about the power – and possibly, limitations – that artists and creative people have on the island, and those involved in the theatre scene in particular? What do you think can and should be done... from this “pulpit”, as it were?

Art is never ‘from a pulpit’ – that would make it propaganda! The purpose of art is to hold up a mirror to man and life. Satire (like Comedy Knights) is more direct – more of an ‘in your face’ statement if you wish. Other forms of theatre aren’t as direct. You are right, we are in turbulent times and it is the job and the duty of artists to create possibilities for discussion and growth. The Memory of Water is pertinent in that it is about the past. A reflection about why we need to be aware of our actions as they will impact the future. We need to pause and consider consequences.

Pia Zammit and Stefan Farrugia
Pia Zammit and Stefan Farrugia

Going back to The Memory of Water... could you tell us a bit about the play, and your character? What drew you in to the production, and what kind of appeal will it have for the Maltese audience?

I watched the play back in 2002 at the Manoel Theatre and it made me guffaw with laughter and cry at its poignancy. I jumped at the chance to audition for a part. On the surface, the play is about three sisters reuniting to bury their mother. Not a barrel of laughs by any stretch of the imagination. However, the humour is dark and truthful and you find yourself laughing in spite of yourself. It’s not slapstick, but very very real. You know how in the most somber of situations something happens that makes you almost want to giggle? This is what this play is like.

I play Mary, a doctor, who was the ‘favourite’ child according to her older sister Teresa. She seems confident on the outside, but she has a secret. She’s also having an affair with a married colleague. And she talks to their dead mother!

The play deals with family, with love, with reconnecting, with motherhood and purpose and most importantly – with memory. Our memories make us who we are, right? How well DO we remember things? How long do memories last? If our memories are gone, who are we?

What do you make of the local theatrical scene, and do you think it will enjoy any tangible benefits as a result of Valletta enjoying its European Capital of Culture status this year?

I find it interesting that the Artistic Director of the Valletta 2018 Foundation seems to think that entertainment and art are the same thing. All artists are entertainers, but not all entertainers are artists. What’s our focus to be – substance or artifice? Art transforms us. Entertainment merely amuses us. Art can, of course, amuse us too – however, that’s not where it stops.

The Memory of Water will be staged at Blue Box, M Space, Msida on  February 16-18; 23-25. A Masquerade production, the play is being directed by Stephen Oliver and the rest of the cast includes

Nadia Vella, Coryse Borg, Kate De Cesare, Stefan Farrugia and Chris Dingli. Bookings: 7979 3737,