The Malta Independent 14 December 2018, Friday

Moving Mountains: when religious beliefs conflict with medical interventions

Coryse Borg Sunday, 14 January 2018, 11:45 Last update: about 12 months ago

The end of this month sees the production of ‘Moving Mountains’, a new play by award-winning playwright Vincent Vella and directed by Josette Ciappara at Spazju Kreattiv. Coryse Borg meets up with theatre stalwart Joyce Grech to find out more about this production which is inspired by true events and deals with the subject of parents of seriously ill children who refuse medical intervention because of their religious beliefs.

Emma is a gifted sixteen-year-old who develops an aggressive condition. Her family, under the influence of Reverend Whitmore, refuses her treatment, against the recommendations of hospital administrator Dr Paola Baldini and Surgeon Dr Nicolas Mertens. A series of highly charged scenes, going right up to the strong, startling denouement, take us through the face-off between the two sides.

The play is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme through the EU collective plays project and produced by non-governmental organisation FOPSIM (Foundation for the Promotion of Social Inclusion Malta).


Ms Grech was engaged by FOPSIM to act as consultant for the EU project, ‘EU collective plays’, co-financed by Creative Europe. The project spans four years, with partners from Italy, Belgium, Spain, Montenegro, Norway, Ireland and, of course, Malta.

“One of the deliverables for each country is to commission an original play and produce it. In our case, the play had to be in English and so I discussed the project with Vincent Vella… and ‘Moving Mountains’ was born. We intend to produce the play in Malta, travel to festivals and also publish it in an anthology together with the plays that our partners are writing,” explains Ms Grech.

After months of research, Vincent came up with the first draft and then a process of re-writing started. By this time, Josette Ciappara had come on board as director and there was constant discussion and editing which also continued throughout the rehearsal process.

Ms Grech has had an extensive career in television, radio and print, as well as in theatre. Her love of theatre started out in Gozo, when she was a child. Fortunately, a drama school had just opened in Nadur and she was chosen for a theatre exchange at the age of 14 in puppet and shadow theatre in Germany.

Her studies continued with a degree in Theatre and Communications, a diploma in teaching drama and eventually a master’s degree in Communication, majoring in journalism. She also completed a three-year intensive acting course at the Malta Drama Centre and a course with the London Film School in Directing.

Taking part in ‘Moving Mountains’ are Mikhail Basmadjian, Antonella Axisa, Naomi Knight, Shelby Aquilina, Anthony Ellul, Lydia Portelli, Karen Magro, Victor Debono, Nicholas Scicluna Maggi and Silvio Axisa.

“We are also proud of the crew that is working to deliver a top-notch performance in every aspect,” says Ms Grech, “The collaboration with Spazju Kreattiv was also instrumental. From the beginning of our discussions over a year ago, there was a lot of positive feedback to support the production and it is now included in the official Spazju Kreattiv programme.”

Ms Grech states that the production has a lot of energy both in writing and interpretation. Scenes are short and intense and the setting is very modern and minimalistic focusing mainly on the acting and interpretation.

“The issue of faith healing is a topic which is new to theatre and has an international feel to it,” she ponders. “The production even organised a focus group with local stakeholders months in advance of the first draft and a play reading with our international partners to understand the issue at hand and how it is perceived with various audiences.”

According to Ms Grech, the rehearsals have been very focused, with a lot of discussion and input from the actors:

“The commitment of all those involved was truly commendable. The actors as an ensemble jelled immediately, even if for some, it was their first time working together and some are still teenagers. Although the festive season came right in the middle of rehearsals, after a short break they resumed right where they had left off. Now that we are in the final days before performance, everyone is doing their utmost to give the best performance possible.”

Ms Grech concludes by saying that she believes that the production will be one of the best this theatre season, with a new script and fresh approach to staging.

“The issue it deals with lends well to theatre and the effect our faith has on how we approach life-changing decisions is one that the Maltese people can all relate to on some level,” she says. “And the intimate staging at the Spazju Kreattiv theatre also will make the performance more emotionally gripping.”

‘Moving Mountains’ will be staged at the St James Centre for Creativity theatre on Friday 26, Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 January at 8pm. Online booking is open through

For more information about the project visit

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