The art of coming undone | Pia Zammit

Simply a story about a woman emotionally rent apart by a tragedy, Anthony Nielson’s Stitching became a ‘cause celebre’ of the censorship saga in the late noughties, securing a unique role in the history of the Maltese stage. Actress Pia Zammit speaks ahead of its national debut at the Teatru Manoel Studio Theatre

Pia Zammit (right) and Mikhail Basmadjan (left) finally face each other on stage for Stitching – the play at the centre of the Maltese censorship row back in the noughties
Pia Zammit (right) and Mikhail Basmadjan (left) finally face each other on stage for Stitching – the play at the centre of the Maltese censorship row back in the noughties

Stitching has been a long time coming, and not for the most savoury of reasons either. How does it feel to finally be allowed to stage this play?

It HAS been a long time coming indeed. Ten years is a long time – especially when you’re in court. Feelings are mixed if I am to be honest. I’m exceedingly happy that we won – it was an important case and important discussions came out of it. Ours was the last play to ever be banned in the whole of Europe, and because of this case we now no longer have theatre censorship on the island.

On the other hand, expectations for this play are high and I’m petrified! However I can’t deny that it IS fun to re-explore a play after a decade. My understanding of it is deeper and it’s remarkable how it stands the ‘test of time’, as it were. It’s exceedingly well written and we haven’t had to change anything other than a single sentence, even though we’re ten years older as the characters.

“The censorship of the play was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the board of classification which turned into a ridiculous witch-hunt against the rise of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre on the island”

Looking back on it, what would you say were some of the most significant reasons for Stitching to be censored? And beyond the shameful political implications of the censorship itself, why do you think this play ruffled feathers in particular?

I think it was a reaction to theatrical productions, more specifically Unifaun Theatre productions, going down the ‘in-yer-face’ theatre path. I think it was a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the board of classification which turned into a ridiculous witch-hunt. It was the wrong play to pick on. The play is immensely moral at heart – it’s a harrowing journey granted, but the heart is pure. The harsher parts are not gratuitous, they are the products of a mind and soul that are not very healthy and are trying to make sense of an awful tragedy. I’m afraid I can’t say more for fear of spoilers!

However, the reasons given for banning the play were two utterances of blasphemy, glorification of the holocaust and of mass-murderers. The blasphemy I can’t negate (although you’d be hard-pressed to point it out when watching the play) and the other two reasons are wrong. There is no glorification at all. If you read isolated sentences from the play, then of course you could misconstrue what is being said – however if you read it (or watch it) in context, then it all makes sense. It’s a tough journey – but not a gratuitous one, I repeat.

Are you confident that the play retains a keen edge, even if we accept that it being censored in Malta was more than slightly overblown?

Oh yes definitely. It’s a very valid play and the issues covered are very pertinent today – especially in Malta.

What can you tell us about your character? What makes her journey throughout the play particularly resonant?

I can’t tell you much without giving away spoilers I’m afraid. What I CAN say is that Abby is a loving, if rather argumentative, woman who undergoes something traumatic. This unseats her, and her mind goes on a dark journey to try and work it out or make it go away. At heart, it’s a story about a relationship. It’s a love story, that’s all it is. Everyone’s story is different, everyone’s stories have ups and downs – pain and joy. This is just a love story.

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

I think we are blessed with bucket loads of talent on this island and if I had the power to change one thing – I’d magic new audiences so we can sustain this on a professional level.

What’s next for you?

Comedy Knights – the sixth show! Six years we’ve been doing this and it feels like we started yesterday. Every year is a new challenge which we relish and fear in equal measures. Bring it on!

Directed by Chris Gatt and also featuring Mikhal Basmadjan, Stitching will be staged at the Teatru Manoel Studio Theatre in

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