A controversial platform that appeared in the lower part of Strait Street, Valletta is just the first of a series of theatrical facilities set to recreate The Gut.
Andrei Imbroll, the CEO of Valletta Boutique Living and part of the team behind the newly installed platform, spoke to Lovin Malta to explain what it is exactly.
“We grew up in a Malta where, every day of the week, you could go out and enjoy a nice relaxing evening out. But some of these areas are not so welcoming anymore. We wanted to create a place where you can go out with your friends and enjoy something a bit more cultural,” he said.
“So we came up with the idea for this stage in the Gut,” he said.
Andrei said the stages will provide the space for a series of cultural performers, like musicians, actors, and poets, to take to the open-air stages in The Gut and perform on a regular schedule.
“We want to create a hub of entertainment outside of the more popular parts of Valletta,” he said.
He said VBL group had been in talks with theatre companies over the last few years to come up with a cultural program. They are also in talks with the Education department to bring classes of schoolchildren to The Gut for poetry sessions.
However, a lot of people had called out VBL for installing the stage in Strait Street’s airspace, and were worried if this would become a recurring thing that establishments would do to extend their space.
Andrei said that only VBL, the law courts and Marks and Spencers had been given permission to install bridges/platforms, and all three of these were special projects that benefitted from unique incentives.
VBL itself owns 90% of the particular area in The Gut, for example.
As such, he was very skeptical that singular establishments would be given a similar permission by the Planning Authority.
“We had said we wanted to do something that would really put this place on the map, so we went to one of the best architects in Malta – Chris Briffa. We both agreed that we didn’t want the degradation that there is in places like St Julians. And he came up with the concept of Strait Street theatre,” he said.
One of the main thrusts of this project was that everything they did could be reversed – including the stages.
‘We’ve made sure that everything we did is completely reversible, which in terms of conservation is one of the most important things,” he said.
However, many critics of the new platform called out the platform as inconsistent with the rest of Strait Street’s design, and called it an eyesore.
“And people might complain about the taste or design, but I am open to suggestions that will elevate the quality of the entertainment – but no-one’s come up with a better idea than Chris Briffa’s so far,” he said.
The idea for the stages was inspired by similar stages in parts of London as well as Amsterdam.
“We are trying to create an alternative type of entertainment in Malta,” he said.
Andrei said that VBL had taken over the century-old building that forms most of The Gut when it “was on the edge of collapse”.
Believing that the building held a lot of value, even though it was in the so-called sleaziest part of Strait Street, they went about removing “15 trucks of garbage” that included mattresses and syringes from the building.
The 12 doors VBL acquired are set to be opened into a series of restaurants and bars throughout 2018.
“Six years ago everyone told us we were crazy to invest in Strait Street, especially the lower part. Nobody sane or without a passion for Valletta would have gone into it,” he says.