Updated | Manoel Theatre cancels Azzopardi’s Ix-Xiħa: ‘It’s the right thing to do’

Theatre producer Mario Philip Azzopardi has claimed actors for his upcoming production Ix-Xiħa have quit the cast as play is cancelled amid umbrage over scurillous portrayal of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Mario Philip Azzopardi
Mario Philip Azzopardi

The Teatru Manoel board has announced it has unanimously decided to cancel the upcoming production of Ix-Xiħa over the public outrcry.

“The Teatru Manoel Management Board is receptive to sentiments among its audiences and within the artistic community... it was deemed appropriate to cancel the production with immediate effect,” the board said.

The Teatru Manoel Management Board held an extraordinary meeting on Friday following developments on social and public media.

A spokesperson for the Board said: “Cancelling this production is the right thing to do. We are Malta’s National Theatre and we have a responsibility to the artistic community, our performers, and our audiences.”

Theatre producer Mario Philip Azzopardi has claimed actors for his production Ix-Xiħa quit the cast after “claims threats of violence” and that his production has now been cancelled. He did not identify the actors.

“They won,” Azzopardi said in a terse Facebook statement, referring to critics who expressed umbrage over his inflammatory portrayal of the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia, with an antagonist who bluntly references the assassinated journalist’s last lines ever published.

While Azzopardi did not name the actors who quit the production, the producer and the Manoel Theatre board were under intense criticism for hosting the upcoming play, which had already been refused by artistic director Kenneth Zammit Tabona.

MaltaToday is informed that Zammit Tabone was never consulted by the Manoel Theatre board when Azzopardi resubmitted his script in 2020, straight after appearing in front of the Caruana Galizia public inquiry board where he had been questioned about his play.

He had told the inquiry Zammit Tabona refused the script over a character with clear references to her being Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Azzopardi claims that Zammit Tabona “led a campaign against the script, and this eventually reached the ears of the three judges conducting the inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder.”

Ix-Xiħa was already refused in 2020, years after Zammit Tabona first refused Azzopardi’s Min qatel lil Daphne? (Who Killed Daphne?) in 2015. The play is co-financed by a €20,000 finance ministry grant to encourage Maltese-language plays.

Zammit Tabona offered his resignation as artistic director in 2021, but then culture minister Josè Herrera did not accept the resignation. Zammit Tabona remains artistic director, but his name is not listed in the Manoel Theatre’s ‘About Us’ section online.

Outrage at the play’s announcement on Thursday led to the leak of a version of the Azzopardi script, published on Manuel Delia’s blog, who called it “shallow, badly written, and superficial, and it is bad because it is spiteful, full of hate, prejudice, and disturbingly incurable visceral violence.”

The play portrays a dead mother who, conversing with the audience, plots revenge on her snobbish four children by disinheriting them in favour of the family servant and nanny. “One of the children is transparently Daphne Caruana Galizia or rather what listeners of Super One imagine Daphne Caruana Galizia was like,” Delia said. “She is venal, spiteful, classist, incapable of empathy or any human emotion.”

In one of the lines intended to bait audiences to Caruana Galizia’s last words published on her blog, the ‘Jenny’ character says “May your children die of cancer. There are crooks everywhere you see.  A desperate situation.” (“Jalla it-tfal tagħkom imutu kollha kemm huma bil-kanċer. Kull fejn tħares, ħallelin biss. SITWAZZJONI DDISPRATA.”)

Azzopardi has insisted Ix-Xiħa is a work of satire. “In satire nothing is sacred. Why should it be. What is the meaning of ‘sacred’ anyway? And how could [the inquiry] judge if they knew nothing about what they were talking about?”