Malta, a nation of extremes, in Repubblika Immakulata

As the defining theatrical group of which she is a founding member re-emerges from a four-year hiatus, playwright and director Simone Spiteri speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about Repubblika Immakulata, an upcoming political satire aiming to expose the nation’s neuroses

How does it feel to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of Dù Theatre, and would you say Repubblika Immakulata is an adequate play to commemorate this occasion?

It’s surreal if I think about it, we’ve done and achieved so much over the years. At the same time it’s mind-boggling... where did 15 years go? It feels like it was only yesterday we were just girls working in a cold garage with nothing but a bunch of (sometimes over-idealistic/naive) ideas. How are we grown-ups now? It’s funny and also wonderful that we are still in each other’s lives – despite us being such different people with totally different lifestyles.

The company has remained the glue that holds us together as an extended family which now includes partners, parents, siblings, children – the whole works. Repubblika Immakulata reflects, I suppose, the coming of age of the company and probably my writing. It’s my most political, harsh, no-holds barred play to date. It’s a mix of being older, a tad wiser, definitely more cynical and completely uninterested in beating about the bush on matters I and the company feel strongly about. I guess it’s an adequate metaphor for being 15 and rebellious, right?

The group is also returning from a four-year hiatus. What were some of the main reasons for this ‘break’, and has this lull contributed to how you’re approaching Repubblika Immakulata?

We periodically take these breaks because we feel they are healthy – for the group’s dynamic and also for each one of us as an individual artist. Experiencing theatre in different set-ups and with different people is always beneficial and it stops us from rusting inside our own bubble. Members of the group have worked in different companies, I’ve written a lot in the past four years for other companies and people and travelled for writing residencies, and then there’s obviously big life changes that affect thirty-something women: parenthood, careers and the commitments that come with them. We miss each other a lot when we have these breaks but then that always means we’re all bursting with enthusiasm and creative energy when we regroup for a new project and Repubblika Immakulata, which is also a collaboration with Spazju Kreattiv, was no different.

Can you trace a line of evolution from your previous work to this upcoming play?

My earlier plays such as Appuntamenti and Kjaroskur were more focused on the intimate relationships between people. While I am still very much interested in exploring the language the Maltese use to communicate with one another and finding ways to capture it on stage in such a way that it sounds familiar to audience members in the theatre, the pivot of these earlier works was always inter-personal relationships. Repubblika Immakulata is a springboard to something I have never done before because the domestic set-up of the play – a family of siblings whose lives intertwine through a general election, village festa and a wedding – acts as portal to wider metaphors of our lives and identity as a nation, collectively. The characters all have their narrow limitations and personal trials and tribulations but what the play tries to do is hold up a mirror to the audience who might glimpse themselves between the folds of these fictitious people’s endeavours. Everyone watching the play will be reminded of someone they know through these characters... possibly, hopefully, even of themselves.

What made you opt to go for such an openly satirical work? And how did you go about rendering representative aspects of ‘Malteseness’ in the play, without defaulting to either stereotypes or knee-jerk impressions?

The play intentionally sets up these archetypes to start off with and then disassembles them progressively as the play wears on. What makes us safe, what we think we recognise at the beginning reveals itself to be much more complex than we originally thought – which I think is an apt description of us Maltese.

We tend to paint ourselves as being simple people at heart whereas I think we are a deeply complex nation, the result of an intricate history of conquerors, events, turmoil and survival instinct. This is woven into a tragi-comic set-up because I would like the audience to be constantly reminded that every time we laugh, empathise or deride these characters – which I think they invariably will in Repubblika Immakulata – we are essentially laughing, empathising and deriding ourselves. We are all complicit in the experience of being Maltese.

What are some of the most urgent topical concerns that you want to address with this play, and how do you aim to challenge the Maltese audience with this work?

Who are we really, in 2019? We aren’t just the kind-hearted small nation that we like to portray ourselves as. Are we ready to acknowledge there is a harsher, perhaps murkier side to us?

Can the generous, fundraising, hospitable, loud and colourful Maltese also be the same xenophobic, materialistic, environmentally unconscious, pious people you see littering social media feeds, ravaging the remaining patches of green left around the islands or gossiping in street corners?

We’ve always been a nation of extremes – are we ready to address this side of ourselves, at all?

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

I think it’s a transitional time. The scene is exploring what it wants to be in many ways, sometimes with results that leave much to be desired. I do feel there’s a lack of a fringe sector which I feel is important to have in any theatre scene.

When we started, out there were always a good ten or so small companies at any given time in the theatre season – not everyone was producing the same type or quality of work, of course, but I think it’s really important to have these small companies that exist in parallel to the larger, more institutional ones.

A healthy theatre scene requires and should have space for both. The fringe is where the real experimentation takes place, where mistakes can be made and lessons learnt, where the pressure is not big enough to force people to take safe choices rather than push the boundaries because the stakes are too high. It’s a playground each new artist needs because it’s where real growth happens and I think many are skipping this pivotal step.

What’s next for you?

A good rest, for starters, your energy levels are not the same when producing a play at 35 as it was at 21! Then we will be preparing for our 10 year anniversary celebration of Appuntamenti later on this year. It’s a play that has a special place for us as a company and certainly a huge turning point for me as a playwright. Other than that, there’s always more writing on the horizon, I have a book to finish and then who knows – I loved coming back to writing for an adult audience and I’ve more to say so I’m not putting my pen down any time soon.

Repubblika Immakulata will be staged at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta on March 29, 30, 31; April 5, 6, 7 at 20:00. Bookings: https://www.kreattivita.org/ 

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