‘The rot is endemic to the very fabric of our society’

Director DANIEL AZZOPARDI and the scriptwriter ALEKS FARRUGIA speak to Lara Zammit about the latest Spazju Kreattiv production Ġiraffa Ħarbet minn Kastilja.

LZ: Ġiraffa Ħarbet minn Kastilja seems to be a satirical jibe against Maltese megalomania and a jaunt into absurdity. What spurred the production of the piece and what are its guiding or prevailing themes?

FROM: One of the play’s main themes is surely one that speaks about power and how people in such positions can exercise their influence to achieve their goals. However, I would be doing a disservice to Aleks Farrugia’s writing if I limited its meaning to that.

The script, which follows Spazju Kreattiv‘s strategy to commission new writing about topical subjects, has many other aspects which are delved into during the course of the narrative.

In fact, the audience will be entertained by different dispositions towards the dispersion of particular news and how such influences public perception. Throughout there are instances that, among others, talk about what constitutes a nation’s identity, the presence of women in positions of influence, and what are perceived as priorities in today’s society.

In this context, while the story has strong roots in Malta, and audiences will recognize and relate to the traits of the characters on stage, the unfolding of circumstances can easily be associated with international affairs. Most certainly, the production with its humorous yet politically charged themes will provide the opportunity for those who watch to debate and continue their discussion long after they leave the theater.

AF: Giraffe speaks of how we go about tackling problems in this country, whether it’s corruption and nepotism, social exclusion and marginalisation, poverty, injustice – all those problems that should be high on the political agenda but in reality, are only paid lip service by politicians ( and not just!). The giraffe is symbolic of all these.

Then of course the play is about the institutions and, yes, their megalomaniac bearing (to the point of absurdity) which is highly dissonant with their actual effectiveness to solve such problems. I don’t think we spare anyone, not even the electors themselves, who in this context will be the attending audience.

LZ: How did you go about directing the piece, particularly its more absurd elements, for the Spazju Kreattiv internship? With what did you imbue the production or elicit in the characters to bring out specific elements of the script?

FROM: Originally, I was not planning to direct the play, but when I spoke to Aleks and so the script I was greatly intrigued by the premise and what I could bring to the table. I am a big fan of the absurd tradition, having myself acted in a few classics, and with political plays such as this, the absurdist approach gives the artistic team a great opportunity to experiment and create a dynamic theater reality.

You cannot create art if you don’t feel the freedom inside

The fact that I managed to bring together a cast of seasoned actors and promising newcomers, complemented by a production team of experts in their respective fields, I was able to create a fertile creative environment wherein everyone could pitch in their ideas to bring my shared vision of the play to life.

LZ: How did you go about producing the script for this piece? Did you experience any trepidation (we often tiptoe around politics here) or any particular challenges navigating the more political elements in your script, however tongue in cheek? What, for you, was the most important thing you wanted to express through your script?

AF: I was approached by Daniel, who had just read my collection of short stories Għall-Glorja tal-Patrijaand he asked me whether I would be interested in writing a play for Spazju Kreattiv. For me this was a great opportunity to return to playwriting after more than 20 years.

At the time I was also writing a satirical political novel (which is due to be published later this year) and I was also involved in the President’s conference about National Unity, for which I wrote a speech on how social injustices in this country will remain a hindrance to authentic national unity. So, I was kind of on a roll: a bit too much disgusted with what I perceived (and still perceive) to be wrong with this country.

& lsquo; Ġiraffa & rsquo;  speaks of how we go about tackling problems in this country.  Design: Luca Azzopardi‘Ġiraffa’ speaks of how we go about tackling problems in this country. Design: Luca Azzopardi

I wanted to show that the rot, if we are to call it so, is endemic – structural – to the very fabric of our society. I was angry – still am – that, rather than tackling the real issues, our politicians and their minions merely turn them into superficial partisan squabbles and nothing substantial comes out of much talking and bickering.

I have always been a great fan of Aristophanes, the playwright who was perhaps the greatest, most poignant, social critic ever. And he did this through laughter – because laughter in its gentleness can be so brutal and honest, in its metaphoric subversion so straightforward. We laugh at what’s presented to us and then we realise we are laughing at our own ridiculousness and absurdity. And in this play the audience is going to laugh a lot!

As to trepidation in touching political subjects – no, I don’t feel any. I am a democrat – that’s my ideology. I believe in the function of art as a disruptive democratic action – that is why I hate all forms of elitist approach to art and the pretence of highbrow exclusiveness.

I write about the things that worry me, that anger me and move me, and I want to communicate my worries, my anger and my thoughts so that others may perhaps find some value in them and may touch their lives. I suppose I might irritate someone along the way but that, frankly, is not my problem.

You cannot create art if you don’t feel the freedom inside. And you cannot be free if along the artistic journey you keep worrying on whose toes you will tread.

Ġiraffa Ħarbet minn Kastilja will be running at Spazju Kreattiv from May 13 to 22.

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