The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Making a drama out of development

Tuesday, 16 October 2018, 08:49 Last update: about 2 years ago

A new Maltese play addressing development in Malta and penned by award-winning playwright Clare Azzopardi is soon to take to the local stage. We speak with ‘Tebut Isfar’ director MARCELLE TEUMA, to find out more about her vision for this unique production.

Development in Malta has arguably been a hot topic for decades, with construction and environmental issues often making headlines in the local news. Now it has even inspired a Maltese play, which will be performed at the Valletta Campus Theatre in the weeks to come.

In Tebut Isfar, award-winning local playwright Clare Azzopardi has set about tackling the development issue head-on, by telling the story of Ġorġ, a coffin-maker who lives with his daughter in the garage where he makes them. Through the narrative, Ġorġ must deal with a contractor who wants to buy the building to make way for a new, larger and more modern boutique hotel. 

"It is a story that is very topical to the times we are living now," explains Tebut Isfar director. "But, importantly, we must admit that we have been living this story in our country for decades. The environment has mattered very little in this country and we do not appreciate enough that the world is fundamentally an inter-related web of relationships. It makes no sense to continue with this rampant building and the abuse of nature goes hand-in-hand with the abuse of our right to live in a clean, healthy environment."

Although the topics explored in Tebut Isfar may be hard-hitting, Azzopardi's writing ensures that there are still plenty of light and funny moments throughout the play. "In spite of the sombre narrative there is a lot going on on-stage that will bring smiles and maybe laughs from whoever will be watching," Teuma continues. "There is a lightness intermingling the heaviness of the situations that have been created by the playwright and this takes on another dimension as the performers are beginning to embody the characters of the play."

The performers currently in rehearsal for Tebut Isfar also bring a wealth of theatre experience to the production. "I am working with four very talented performers: Mariele Żammit, Peter Galea, Leigh Ann Abela and Anthony Ellul," continues the director. "I am really pleased with their work even though we are still in the initial stages of the rehearsal process. I am really thrilled to be working with such enthusiastic and brilliant people."

Likewise, it is far from the first time that Teuma has worked with Unifaun Theatre Productions, and she knows that the company's highly-experienced crew are essential in bringing such a visually-important piece to the stage. "I am happy to be working with Unifaun again. Producer Adrian Buckle has been very supportive from the very beginning, and no work gets done unless you have a good backstage crew. I have Elaine Bugeja sitting with me through rehearsals, Rachel Zammit a message away to add to the list of props as she coordinates with David Micallef, and Claudio Apap is working on the coffins. The charismatic Jackie Grima will be taking care of make-up, costumes are in the hands of Nicole Cuschieri and projections will be taken care of by Ismael Portelli. Finally, Moritz Zavan will devise the light design and, during production week, a myriad of light cues will be handed over to Stefan Scerri who will manage them during the performances. This invaluable bunch of hard-working people deserve to get more credit for the work that they do in order to get a performance ready."

While staging a production of this kind can be challenging, the Tebut Isfar cast and crew were assisted by Clare Azzopardi's original script and her understanding of the theatrical use of space and dialogue, making it easier for them to bring it into fruition. "Clare is a brilliant playwright because she understands the mechanisms of theatre-making, in the way she concocts her plots sustained by a tension held in place through rhythmic, brisk and witty dialogue. And, more importantly, she does all this using our native language - Maltese," remarks Teuma. "Clare is also aware of a crucial element pertaining to theatre making - space. The space she chooses to tell the story, this time round the garage of a coffin maker, is extremely suggestive and alluring from an audience point of view, as well as very challenging from a technical point of view. There are going to be plenty of coffins to deal with on stage!"

Tebut Isfar by Clare Azzopardi is produced by Unifaun Theatre Productions and will be performed at the Valletta Campus Theatre (ex MITP) today and on 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28 October. It is supported by the Malta Arts Fund and the University of Malta.

Further information and tickets are available online at

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