There was a point in the 90s when I felt that the Maltese theatre scene had become somewhat stagnant. It wasn’t that there weren’t any decent productions being put up, because in truth there were plenty of those. What was lacking was a pushing of boundaries, a willingness to disrupt the status quo of guaranteed bums on seats that came with a certain style of – for want of a better word, let’s call it with a bougie production.
Malta did enjoy some disruptive theatre in the very early noughties, thanks to the excellent Actinghouse Productions, which was wound up after the sad passing of Julian Manduca. Then, for a few years, nothing. Until, seemingly suddenly, Unifaun Productions erupted on the scene in 2005. And now, thanks to producer Adrian Buckle, we actually have a book to ensure this part of our theatre history is not lost – Unifaun – Teatru Mod Ieħor.
The advent of this theatre company was about to turn the local theatre crowd right on its head. Many disapproved of the choice of plays, perhaps because they were scared of the unfamiliar. But those who had been craving a ‘different kind of theatre’ – if you’ll excuse me literally borrowing the title of the book – attended in droves. Bums came to the seats indeed and we were gifted with a decade of theatre that no-one had expected. I myself still count Martin Mc Donaugh’sThe Pillowman and Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur as two of the top productions I’ve had the fortune to experience locally.
Unifaun – Teatru Mod Ieħor documents all these glory days, including the infamous banning of Anthony Neilson’s Stitching in 2009. The controversy was instrumental in the removal of Malta’s theatre censorship laws, but it would be 2018 until the play was finally staged locally.
Nowadays, a Unifaun Productions piece doesn’t necessarily carry the same import it did back then, for the simple reason that the audience is no longer quite so starved of the weird and the wonderful in Malta. But back then, Unifaun was the only such source of theatre for many, unless you ventured abroad. Unifaun Productions signified a turning point for Maltese theatre and this book chronicles the entire journey.
And it does so beautifully, with photography from the actual productions that transport the reader back to the boards. The book is compiled by Adrian Buckle and edited by Trevor Zahra, and it includes reviews from the main theatre reviewers of the day as well as stunning photography by Darrin Zammit Lupi and Mark Zammit Cordina (among others).
Unifaun – Teatru Mod Ieħor is a beautifully presented documentation of one of the biggest players on the local theatre scene. There is no doubt that Unifaun was instrumental in shaping and transforming Malta’s productions, and Unifaun -Teatru Mod Ieħor is a timely and worthy reminder.