Life, not as we know it

Staġun Teatru Malti’s upcoming production, Sibna ż-Żejt, presents a future Malta with more than one political difference. I interviewed script-writer Wayne Flask – an edited version of this interview was published on the Sunday Times of Malta.

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The year is 2036. Joseph Muscat is still in power, more so than ever in fact. Democracy has morphed into what sounds like a benign dictatorship-cum-voluntary monarchy.
Oh, and former premier Dom Mintoff is also available for conference calls from the other side, as it were. The good news? Malta has finally struck oil and… err, well, that’s about it.
But don’t panic. This is not one of Angelik’s prophecies for our island. The scenario is the result of script-writer Wayne Flask’s imagination, him of Satiristan fame.
Satiristan, the Facebook page with the 3,000- strong following, was known for poking satirical fun at everything and everyone.
Now, through Sibna ż-Żejt, Flask turns that incisive wit to the theatre with a script that reads like a marriage between comic fantasy writer Tom Holt and Italian satirical show Blob.
How do you describe Sibna ż-Żejt?
It shows a future Malta, slightly dystopian, with the heavier focus being on comedy on politics – however, I didn’t want the message to be lost in too many layers of surrealism.
The script was created with the idea of making people laugh and anyone can follow the story.
Although the setting is political, the audience doesn’t need to be particularly conversant. Of course, beyond the comedy there is the message. I don’t hold back and, to put it in the vernacular, ma nħobbx niġbed is-saqajn meta nista’ niġbed il-widnejn.
Loosely translated, I don’t waste time with flippant jokes, when I can use well-targeted barbs, instead. The whole point of satire is to home in on its target.
The amusement factor is important, but if things stop there then there’s no point for it. Having said that, it is also possible to take the script at face value.

How did you get into satire?
Like many Maltese, I was brought up on a diet of Italian television. Some of my favourite shows were the satirical ones on Rai 3.
The journalists called a spade a spade; they didn’t shy away from attacking all political figures without fear or favour, despite the fact that the channel was owned by the party.
Then, the Berlusconi era hit and the way the press reacted when he tried to control the media was priceless. I admired this Italian cultural movement – it was not too highbrow, or pretentious.
On the contrary, it was extremely accessible and reached everyone. They weren’t part of ‘the accepted system’. I didn’t want to be part of this system either, and that’s how my passion for satire was born.
Sibna ż-Żejt is probably the first local fictional work to refer to current, real life personalities by name.

Do the potential repercussions worry you?
I discussed this at length with Mario Phillip Azzopardi, who is producing the play and Sean Buhagiar, the director.
At one point I did consider using fake names instead, but then we all realised that it would defeat the point of the play. I’m not really worried about it though… after all, it would be rather ironic were any negative consequences arise from it.
Though I have to say that the prospect of being exiled somewhere like Lanzarote has its appeal.
On a more serious note, though, one thing that I learnt when writing this script is that you have to learn to ‘love’ your ‘victims’. At one point, when writing, I realised that I was coming across as too angry.
Too much anger can alienate people. So I took a step back and decided to look at the story from a new angle.

 

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Do you feel that the Maltese audience appreciates satire?
Yes. There was a time when I did feel that local satire was targeted towards the privileged few, those numbers who would ‘get it’. I wanted to avoid that and make the story accessible to the masses.
The humour is off-centre, true, but it is very approachable. Even if you’re only there for the laughs, you will still enjoy it.

Is it only politicians that are targetted?
No, because politics does not happen in a vacuum, even though many politicians seem to think that it does. I criticise the media, journalism, society and its workings…
There is a lot beyond politics that affects politics. One of the characters is a blogger and no, it’s not the obvious name, but a descendant.
This is more than 15 years into the future, after all. There’s also the Curia involved, the business class, some foreigners… and yes, China is there, too.
The main character remains that of Joseph Muscat, of course, played by Mario Micallef.

What was the biggest challenge when writing?
I started working on Sibna ż-Żejt about a year ago. Act 1 pretty much wrote itself, but in the second act I did have some niggling doubts.
Throughout the whole process I liaised a lot with Alex Vella Gera and there was one particular scene where we just couldn’t agree. Eventually, it fell into place on its own.
I have a fondness for the way the second act turned out. All the characters have established their quirks, but there is one particular one… let’s just say that were I ever to act, it would be the kind of character that I would write for myself.
He is all those people who mean well, those who are not tied down by petty party politics, all those who rise above the corruption.

What’s next for Wayne Flask?
A break. The idea is to eventually resume work on my novel, which will not be as heavily political as Sibna ż-Żejt.
Sibna ż-Żejt runs between May 15 and 24 at 8pm at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta.

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