L-Interdett taħt is-Sodda

 

 

3, 4 u 5 ta’ Novembru 2006, fit-teatru tal-Kavallier ta' San Ġakbu

 
 

English version

review by Paul Xuereb in The Sunday Times

Il-kitbiet fil-Programm Stampat

Ritratti tal-produzzjoni ta' Andrew Rizzo

 

 

 

Teatrutramm u Inizjamed, bil-kollaborazzjoni tal-Kavallier ta' San Ġakbu, se jtella' d-dramm "L-Interdett taħt is-Sodda," kitba ta' Clare Azzopardi u direzzjoni ta' Marcelle Teuma, fit-teatru tal-Kavallier ta' San Ġakbu, il-Belt Valletta nhar it-3, 4 u 5 ta’ Novembru 2006.

 

Direzzjoni   Marcelle Teuma
Kitba   Clare Azzopardi
Atturi   Joe Galea, Marion Zammit, Alison Desira
Disinjatur   Pierre Portelli
Koordinazzjoni   Claire Zerafa

Traduzzjonijiet mill-Antigone

  Oliver Friggieri
 

 

“Trid tmur l-infern? Ilbes diżonest, ara l-films ħżiena, aqra Il-Ħelsien.”

 

Fil-bidu tas-snin sittin dan il-kliem kien jidher fuq il-kartelluni li kienu jitwaħħlu mal-ħitan tal-knejjes. Fit-8 t’April 1961 l-Arċisqof Gonzi ddikjara l-interdett fuq Mintoff u l-membri kollha ta’ l-Eżekuttiv tal-Partit Laburista. Kull min kien jaqra l-gazzetti tal-partit Laburista kien jagħmel dnub.

 

F’Settembru ta’ l-1961 miet il-kittieb Ġużè Ellul Mercer, li baqa’ magħruf l-iktar għar-rumanz Leli ta’ Ħaż-Żgħir. Peress li Ellul Mercer kien jikteb regolarment f’Il-Ħelsien u kien ukoll membru fl-Eżekuttiv, ingħata wkoll l-interdett. Minħabba f’hekk ġie midfun fil-parti mhux kkonsagrata ta’ l-Addolorata; fl-hekk imsejħa l-Miżbla.

 

Ellul Mercer ma kienx l-unika li ġie midfun fil-miżbla. Kien hemm ħames irġiel oħra u mara. Fi żmien l-interdett il-laburisti kollha ma setgħux jieħdu sehem fil-quddiesa, ma setgħux iqerru u jitqarbnu u l-kappillan ma kienx iberkilhom djarhom. Jekk taqra Il-Ħelsien kont tkun qed tagħmel dnub.

 

Għal ħafna Maltin, żmien l-Interdett (1961-1964) kien żmien ta’ terrur. Tant hu hekk li meta ntlaħaq il-ftehim bejn L-isqof Gonzi u Mintoff, u tneħħa l-interdett, in-nies riedu jinsew kompletament dan iż-żmien ikrah u x’aktarx iddeċidew li jitfgħuh taħt is-sodda.

 

L-Interdett taħt is-sodda li qed jittella’ f’kollaborazzjoni ma’ Inizjamed, qed jesplora t-tema taċ-ċimiterji minn għadd ta’ perspettivi. F’dan id-dramm toħroġ l-idea ta’ l-istorja bħala ċimiterju u taċ-ċimiterju bħala storja. Toħroġ ukoll l-istorja speċifika taċ-ċimiterju f’Malta, u tispikka wkoll l-idea li jekk persuna ma tirrakkontax l-istorja tagħha, hi x’inhi r-raġuni, tindifen għal dejjem.

 

Id-dramm jitlaq minn siltiet meħuda mill-Antigone ta’ Sofokle.  It-tema prinċipali ta’ dan id-dramm klassiku hija l-kunflitt bejn l-individwu u l-poter li għandu l-Istat.  Kreon,  ir-Re ta’ Tebi, jiddikjara li filwaqt li Eteokle għandu jingħata difna xierqa, Poliniċe, ħuh, għandu jitħalla mingħajr difna xierqa, mitluq għarwien fix-xemx, biex jittiekel mill-annimali selvaġġi.  Oħtu Antigone tisfida dan il-kmand tar-Re, il-futur kunjatu, u b’determinazzjoni kbira tiġbor lil ħuha Poliniċe u tidfnu kif mixtieq minnha anke jekk dan kien ifisser mewt għaliha.

 

Kif wieħed jista’ jara t-tema ta’ dan id-dramm tfakkarna wkoll fl-istorja ta’ Malta fis-sittinijiet meta l-Knisja ħarġet l-interdett fuq l-attivisti Laburisti u dawk minnhom li mietu f’dan il-perijodu ma setgħux jiġu midfuna f’art ikkonsagrata imma minflok indifnu fl-hekk imsejħa fil-Miżbla.  Għaldaqstant il-preżentazzjoni ta’ dan il-proġett teatrali tkompli billi tlaqqagħna ma’ żewġ karattri: dak ta’ Mimì u d-deffien. Mimì mietet fi żmien l-interdett, u għax kienet attiva fil-partit Laburista, ġiet midfuna fil-Miżbla. Peress li l-art ma kinitx ikkonsagrata, r-ruħ tagħha la setgħet tmur il-ġenna u lanqas l-infern. U għalhekk baqgħet tiġri fiċ-ċimiterju ta’ l-Addolorata, tistenna lil xi ħadd jiġi jżur il-qabar fqir tagħha. Id-deffien qiegħed bilqiegħda fuq il-qabar ta’ sieħbu Ġiljan li wkoll kien deffien u qed jiftakar fil-mumenti umoristiċi u f’oħrajn li m’humiex, li qattgħu flimkien fuq xogħolhom. B’ton sarkastiku għall-aħħar id-deffien jitkellem fuq bosta affarijiet li jdejquh f’Malta – affarijiet li naturalment għandhom x’jaqsmu ma’ xogħlu.

 

Din il-preżentazzjoni teatrali ser tittella’ ġewwa t-teatru f’San Ġakbu, il-Belt Valletta nhar it-3, 4 u 5 ta’ Novembru 2006.  Dan ix-xogħol qed jittella’ mill-grupp teatrali teatrutramm u minn Inizjamed b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Kavallier ta’ San Ġakbu.

 
     
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 


 
  L-Interdett Taħt is-Sodda

3, 4, 5, November at 8.00pm 

Directed by Marcelle Teuma
Script: Clare Azzopardi
Design: Pierre Portelli
Coordinator: Claire Zerafa
Translation of the texts taken from Antigone: Oliver Friggieri

Produced by Teatrutramm, Inizjamed and St James Cavalier

“Would you like to go to Hell?  Then wear indecent clothes, watch immoral films, read the Ħelsien.”

 

At the start of the Sixties, these words were posted on boards hung on church walls.  On the 8th April 1961, Archbishop Gonzi declared an Interdict on Mintoff and all the members of the Executive Committee of the MLP. The interdict was further relayed to all who read the MLP newspapers.

 

In September 1961, the writer Ġużè Ellul Mercer, best remembered for his novel, ‘Leli ta’ Ħaż-Żgħir’, died.  Since Ellul Mercer was a regular contributor to the Ħelsien and was also a member of the Executive Committee, he belonged to the number of those who had been interdicted.  Because of this he was buried in the unconsecrated part of the Addolorata Cemetery; in the so-called Miżbla (Rubbish Dump).

 

Ellul Mercer was not the only one to be buried in the Dump.  There were five other men and a woman.  During the time the interdict lasted, no Labourite was allowed to participate in the Mass, to confess, to receive communion, or any other sacrament.  The houses of Labourites were not blessed by the parish priest.  Those who read the Ħelsien could do so only under the pain of mortal sin.

 

For many Maltese, the years of the Interdict (1961-1963) were years of terror, to the extent that when an agreement was reached between Archbishop Gonzi and Mintoff, and the Interdict was revoked, the people wished to erase this terrible period from their minds completely, and sweep it under the bed (English idiom ‘under the carpet’).

 

teatrutramm and Inizjamed will be presenting L-Interdett taħt is-Sodda, in collaboration with St.James Cavalier.  This project explores the theme of ‘cemeteries’ from a number of perspectives.  This piece examines the concept of history as a cemetery and of cemeteries as history.  The specific story of the Maltese cemetery emerges too, and the contention is also stressed that if a person does not narrate his/her story, no matter what the reason, it will be buried forever.

 

The play takes off from texts taken from Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’ The first part of the performance is based upon the Greek tragedy Antigone written by Sophocles in the fourth century BC. One of the central themes of this play is the conflict between the individual and the power of the state. Creon, King of Thebes, declares that whilst Eteocles will be given a full and honourable funeral, Polyneices, his brother will be left unburied in the sun for the animals to devour. Their sister Antigone defies this law proclaimed by her uncle and future father-in-law and is determined to bury her brother Polyneices even if it means her own death. The work done with the text of Antigone will be the backdrop of this performance. It will focus on the conflict between Human Law and the Divine Law requiring that the dead be put to rest with proper rituals. This will be presented within the context of Malta in the 60s when the Church had cast the Interdict upon activists of the Labour Party and those of them who died during that time were not allowed to be buried on sacred ground.

We meet two characters, Mimì and Ġiljan, the grave-digger.  Mimì died during the Interdict period and, since she was active within the MLP, was buried in the Dump.  Since the ground was not consecrated, her soul was unable to go either to heaven or to hell.  And so she haunted the Addolorata cemetery, waiting for somebody to visit her desolate grave.  The grave-digger sits on the grave of his mate, Ġiljan, who was also a grave-digger, and recalls moments, both humorous and otherwise, which they had spent together at work.  In an utterly sarcastic tone, the grave-digger speaks about many things which exasperate him about Malta – things which naturally have to do solely with his work.

 
     
 
 
 

DISHONOURED GRAVE

Paul Xuereb

 

Yet another drama group, Teatrutramm, but one that forces us to stop, take attention and think. With L-Interdett taħt is-Sodda (St James Cavalier) written by one of the more interesting of Malta’s New Wave writers, Clare Azzopardi, and directed by Marcelle Teuma who seems to have put her acting aside in order to become a truly intelligent director (remember her gripping Marat/Sade not so long ago?) Teatrutramm has found a promising new voice for our theatre and declared its interest in drama that grows out of Maltese roots.

 

In November, the month in which Catholics think rather more than usual about their dead ones, Azzopardi reminds us who lived through the episode and the young people who may not even know about it, of the most shameful event in the twentieth century history of the Church in Malta. In the early Sixties, the years leading up to Malta’s Independence, the mighty clash between the Malta Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff and the Maltese Church led by Archbishop Michael Gonzi, both of them fiery and mostly uncompromising leaders, led to bitter attacks on Church policy by Labour and a growing stream of anticlericalism flowing from Labour leaders and the Labour press, brought about Gonzi’s imposing one of the harshest penalties the Church can bring down on its emembers, by interdicting all persons who produced or even read the Labour paper Il-Helsien.

 

Such persons were excluded from the sacraments, and this meant among other things that they were not allowed to marry in church – they were allowed to use the sacristy for such a purpose – or to be buried in consecrated ground. Such people could be buried only in an area adjoining the cemetery, an area called by many Maltese, in awe or in contempt, “Il-Miżbla,” the garbage dump. As a result a number of true Catholic believers who were also staunch Labourites had to marry in what was regarded as a deeply shameful fashion, and, worse still, were physically exiled from the Christian community when they died.

 

Azzopardi has come up with a mixture of styles in her play. Two of the characters, the young woman Mimì, a who died young and was buried in “Il-Miżbla,” and an Angel who keeps her company as Mimì waits for someone to remember her, to visit her grave on which there is no cross and where her very name has been expunged by the elements.

 

The scenes involving these two are a mixture surrealism and realism, for the girl remembers her short life – her active role in the Labour Party but also her relations with her lover – and makes it clear that even after death her sorrow for the way she was treated in death has never diminished. In the first moments of the play, Mimì comes out of her grave, sees a gravedigger who is having a nap, sits and places his head in her lap – transforming herself in a second into a beautiful Pieta`, thus becoming the monument she was not allowed to have on her grave, and a symbol of the sorrow so cruelly forced on her. With this image, Marcelle Teuma gripped my imagination and my emotion straightaway.

 

Another dramatic strand in the play’s woof consists in the playing by Mimì, the Angel and the Gravedigger of two scenes from one of Sophocles’ most powerful tragedies, Antigone which provides a classical antecedent for what happened in Malta. In that play, King Creon whose men have killed two brothers who are his enemies, orders sadistically that one of them is to be buried, while the other has to remain unburied – a cruel fate, since it was believed that unburied people could never leave the site of their death and go to rest in the Underworld. This has a parallel with Mimì’s story, since she too feels compelled to hover indefinitely beside her grave. When their sister, Antigone, pleads in vain with the king to allow her to bury him, she casts earth on her unburied brother’s corpse, knowing that she will herself be slain by Creon.

 

Using Oliver Friggieri’s fine translation of Antigone the three actors make us see that a simple Maltese girl who stood up for her principles, right or wrong, was not inferior to a Greek princess. Tragedy in a minor key, but tragedy still.

 

The third strand is that of broad comedy, with the Gravedigger (played very effectively with rough humour by Joseph Galea) delivering a long monologue about his work in the cemetery, especially in those years when his philosophical mate Ġiljan was still alive. He makes it sound almost as if it were fun: “a gravedigger’s lot is not a melancholy one” might well be his motto. He is cheerful even when he has to remove rotten old coffins from the depths of a grave, and recalls how he used to enjoy startling Ġiljan about corpses being still alive. I am not sure how this strand ties up with the others. Perhaps its relevance is to the play’s other theme: that of the cemetery in today’society where many of us tend to treat death as a nuisance that should not be brooded over too much.

 

Teuma handles well the scenes in which Azzopardi uses Maltese children’s rhymes to create emotions of pity laced with irony. One of the best instances is the use of the rhyme “Bumm, bumm il-bieb, onġi onġi onġella”, which is transformed from a story of sexual courtship to one in which the Ambassador seeking “tifla sabiħa” becomes a Gravedigger seeking “tifla ħażina” to put in unconsecrated ground. The playful scenes between Mimì and the Angel, both of them wearing diaphanous robes, are given a sinister tinge by Teuma’s direction.

 

The connection between Mimì and the historical events that sent her to her dishonoured grave is brought out by recordings of speeches by leaders of the adverse camps: blistering attacks by a church leader on the ungodly Labourites, and one speech in a voice that sounds suspiciously like Mintoff’s, in which the words are sometimes nearly drowned by the church-bells that were notoriously rung to disrupt some Labour meetings. The church speaker does not sound evil or nasty, but the bells that sound throughout the Labour speech tell a story of intolerance that few Maltese, church-going or not, would tolerate today. Are the recordings historical documents? I suspect one of them is, but in any case they all sound very authentic and give the play great power.

 

Pierre Portelli’s cemetery set occupies the entire acting area. The general whiteness sets off the browns and russets of dried leaves, and when at one moment Mimì` claws up heaps of leaf-like objects from a grave, some, like me, may have shuddered at the thought of what they were meant to be.

 

Alison Desira is a very effective Mimì, pretty and sorrowful but basically tough; angry but not regretful. As the Angel, Marion Zammit often does look other-worldly, aided by excellent makeup. In the Antigone scenes, the three performers come together and, wirh choreographed movements, bring the grandeur of Sophocles’ play come briefly to life.

 

Published in The Sunday Times (Malta, 12 November 2006)