Theatre can have many functions; it can teach us, it can make us cry, it can entertain us, it can make us angry, it can confuse us and it can inspire us. Simone Spiteri’s latest script Repubblika Immakulata does all of that, and more. And it does it really well.
Us Maltese, we’re a tricky bunch to understand. Our language is beautifully poetic, but we twist our tongues round and round to come up with the harshest string of swear words imaginable. Our countryside is green and rampant, but we bury it in steel and concrete. We preach love and acceptance, but we turn people away the moment they don’t fit our ideal model. Our family is the most important thing to us, as long as they don’t get in the way of our success.
Now imagine trying to condense all that complexity into a single two-hour performance, and doing it in a way that is almost indisputable.
Sounds near to impossible, right? But local playwright, author, director, actress and all-around creative genius Simone Spiteri and everyone else over at Dù Theatre seemed to manage it just fine. Flaws, complexities, nuances and all; Repubblika Immakulata captures the reality our country is facing on the daily, and is a piece of theatre that is sure to remain relevant for years to come.
Malta now, Malta then, Malta always
There is very little in the script that indicates what time period Repubblika is set in; the use of technology, the style of clothing and the references to current news portals tells us that it is current, but these are elements that do not highly impact the progression of the story. This means that it is a piece of writing that will always remain relevant, much like any of Francis Ebejer’s texts. These contemporary elements also included a recreation of a Lovin Malta video, which was painfully accurate. Shade noted and appreciated.
The point is that the plot of the play revolves around core values, principles and motivations of Maltese individuals from all corners of the island. And it deals with a situation that seems so far-fetched (a wedding, election and festa all on the same day) but is portrayed in a way that you feel like you’ve experienced it for yourself multiple times. Because of these two aspects, the play acts as an almost exact mirror-image of Malta’s current sociopolitical situation.
If you didn’t get to watch Repubblika Immakulata, here’s a quick rundown of the plot before we get into the nitty gritty of it all
The performance revolves around a stretch of time of roughly two days, and follows the events that unfold in the life of the Mercieca siblings. On the same day, Petra is getting married, David is contesting in the parliamentary elections, and Franklin is celebrating the local feast. Throughout the next 24 hours, several truths are revealed about characters in the play such as Petra’s fiancé Jean Paul, their uncle Horace, and the sort of trouble that Franklin and his friend Ir-Rennie get into at the festa.
The plot tackles several key elements of Maltese society, including politics, language, tradition, religion, and construction. It also touches on some more general themes such as nostalgia, the LGBT+ community, social class, and the internet.
Dr Marco Galea, a senior lecturer of Theatre Studies at the University of Malta, described Repubblika Immakulata as Simone Spiteri’s most political drama to date.
“Repubblika Immakulata is packed, just like the house that it is set in, with characters that are looking for, or think they have found, meaning to their lives. Spiteri leaves us with no doubt that this drama is her own analysis of the state our country is in, a country where if you want, you can ignore your problems, because there enough glitter to hide the problems under. But Spiteri doesn’t allow us to ignore them. In fact, she forces us to stick our hand in the wound, and when we retrieve it it’s covered in blood. Then, just like the characters in the play, we need to decide if we want to wash our hands or not.” (Taken from a note from Dr Galea in the show’s programme)
Each character both faces, and represents, at least one facet of society that affects us on the daily. David (portrayed by Mark Mifsud) represents the idolising of politics and politicians, whilst his girlfriend Hannah (Kristjana Casha) represents a social divide in Malta that is only ‘strengthened’ because she speaks English, and David has started speaking English since meeting her. Albert, Hannah’s father (Pierre Stafrace), wants to buy the Mercieca’s house from them in order to build a block of flats on the land. Franklin (Andre Mangion) is the only sibling who does not want to sell the house, because there is a sense of nostalgia to it, and he misses the simplicity of the past as opposed to today’s “kaxxa ġo kaxxa” style. Petra (Magda van Kuilenburg), despite being engaged to an abusive man, is adamant to go through with the wedding no matter what comes in the way; because that is what she’s supposed to do as a young woman.
And although these problems are specific to the individuals, their tragedies and triumphs exist in a much wider context too.
The style of Repubblika is an interesting balance between a realistic portrayal of society and a more stylist approach to representing certain aspects.
I say this, because the script and the way it was performed was highly realistic; with varying dialects and intonation used throughout, and a ‘no holds barred’ approach to the vulgar language we tend to use. Language wasn’t censored or altered to ‘fit’ the piece, but rather the script was written in a way that adapted to the language. However, there was one stylistic choice made by Simone that added an extra dimension to the piece; the character of Anon (portrayed by André Agius).
Anon is constantly jumping the line between character and narrator, sometimes interacting in the scene and other times addressing the audience directly
This was all done in a manner that reminded me very much of ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’ by Bertolt Brecht. Anon starts off the play by setting the scene for the audience and throughout the story ‘checks in’ with us to ensure that we are fully up to date with what has been going on. However, he also interacts with the characters in the story, in his role as the youngest brother. At the same time, there’s only one character who interacts with him; Franklin. And this gives Anon an interesting edge. Who is he? Why is he?
Of course, we eventually find out that Anon is their younger sibling who died as a baby, and Franklin is only imagining him. But he is a very real and important character for us, as he is the person who drives the story forward. He also delivers an epilogue once the drama has concluded, that forces the audience to face the fact that what we have just witnessed is not only a reality, but it is our reality, and that we are all complicit in the creation of this ‘immaculate republic’.
At the end of the epilogue, Anon is ‘buried’ by the other actors, which hints that very often the ‘voice of reason’, or objective individual, is stifled by those around him.
And this is what it gets down to really. Through Repubblika Immakulata, Simone Spiteri and her actors are presenting us with an image of a society that is far from perfect, that has is flaws and its high points, but needs to be fixed. And she is passing the baton onto us by making us see ourselves in the characters.
And this is why I truly believe that Repubblika is a piece of theatre that not only deserves the highest of praise, but also deserves to be talked about and discussed for years to come, as it serves as a crystal clear window into the world we are living in.
Of course, there are some things that weren’t exactly to my liking. I felt it was too shouty at bits, and could have been cut shorter by almost half an hour. I particularly wasn’t a fan of the way the character of Horace addressed Jean Paul’s suppressed homosexuality and thought it was unnecessary.
But that’s the beauty of theatre; it doesn’t have to be perfect to be poignant. I truly believe that this is a piece of work that should be studied and analysed further, and I truly hope that it is published for all to read.
Cover image by Andrew Rizzo