Laughing at ourselves | Is-Serra

Teatru Malta’s Maltese-language adaptation of Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse – Is-Serra – intends to strike a timeless nerve

Victor Debono as the hapless mental asylum director in Is-Serra
Victor Debono as the hapless mental asylum director in Is-Serra

The Hothouse is a tragicomedy written during the winter of 1958. The sinister piece that dared to dissect the inner workings of an ill-managed mental institution was cast aside by its author; until it was finally produced in 1979. Who would have guessed that Pinter’s menacing rants would make perfect sense 60 years later, in Malta? And so, Teatru Malta launches its inaugural production: a Maltese-language translation of Pinter’s modern classic, with a text by acclaimed playwright Simone Spiteri and a production directed by the promising young talent, the actor-director Andre Agius (Skylight).

Pinter’s writings are timelessly relatable because they are plays built on conversations had by people, people who face struggles that are common to any age. We all know who the main characters of Is-Serra are: we speak to them everyday. Roote, played by Victor Debono, is the tired head of the institution, who is desperately trying to retain his position of control and power but is failing miserably and quite laughably at it. Is he failing at it because he isn’t good enough, however, or is it because the flawed system he’s been subjected to has set him up to fail?

Maria Buckle, as Miss Cutts, transforms into a menacingly shrewd and calculating temptress. Cutts, who apart from being the director’s mistress, is also involved with her colleague Gibbs, the ambitious and overachieving employee who will be played by Mark Mifsud. Lush played by Kurt Castillo, is your typical alcoholic on the job, sneaking in a whiskey or two between rounds. So with the lines of professionalism blurred this much, it’s no surprise that no one can make sense of what’s going on in the institution where patients lose their names and become nothing but numbers, numbers on disorganized files that risk never being found again. The cast also features a number of theatrical favourites like Joe Depasquale, Anthony Ellul and the young Benjamin Abela.

Spiteri’s translation of Pinter’s soot-black comedy fits the original like a glove, all the while making it entirely relatable to local audiences. Challenging all assembled to make sense of the hysteria that punctuates the play’s caustic acts, some laughs are bound to sneak through. But as with all of Pinter’s works, the laughter comes laced with no small amount of existential dread.

Is-Serra will be staged at the Mount Carmel Community Theatre on April 26-29. Bookings: or call 21220255 for more information