The Malta Independent 22 June 2021, Tuesday

Irene Christ takes on Pope Joan

Tuesday, 25 June 2019, 10:28 Last update: about 3 years ago

Next month Teatru Malta, together with the Malta International Arts Festival, will be presenting the highly anticipated summer production of Pope Joan at the Mdina Ditch on 6, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12 July. The Malta Independent on Sunday sits down with German director Irene Christ to find out more about the show, Joan's secret and the reason behind wanting to produce this particular piece based on the novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross in the stage version by Susanne Felicitas Wolf

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You've been working on Pope Joan for how long now? 

Originally, I had spent a number of years looking for a play to produce for the Valletta European Capital of Culture Programme for 2018. I live in Valletta and love the city so being part of the programme would have been very exciting but after a lot of to and fro, it became apparent that 2018 wasn't Pope Joan's year, leading the show to become part of the Malta International Arts Festival in 2019. Teatru Malta became our producers and I love working with them and their engaged team because we are all on the same wavelength. The German Maltese Circle, Goethe Institute are also on board together with other entities like the US Embassy who made this show possible.

 

Out of all plays to produce and mark your Maltese comeback with, why choose Pope Joan?

I discovered that there was a stage version of the legend of Pope Joan some two years ago - since then there has not been a day where the thought of putting up this piece wouldn't keep me busy one way or other. The actual rehearsals with my wonderful cast and team started just last May but we had actually been meeting and discussing the show together for a number of months before that. Honestly, a play like Pope Joan, would be valid and relatable anywhere in the world, but with Malta being a catholic country with all its contradictions and with its stunning architectural medieval features it all seemed - just right.

 

You work abroad and have been doing so for years, what brought about the decision to direct this in Malta? 

I work in theatre in Germany and had done so long before I came to Malta where I resided for several years with my husband, the late Maltese journalist Julian Manduca (1958-2005). It was here that I founded the theatre company Actinghouse Productions in 2002 and until 2009 I produced, acted and directed in Malta full-time. For the past 10 years I've been working in Berlin, but remained very much in touch with the Maltese cultural scene nonetheless.

In the meantime I was also lucky to have been able to act in some very unique movies in Malta, such as Do Re Mi Fa by Chris Zarb and Limestone Cowboy by Abigail Mallia, just to highlight two. But I always wanted to do theatre again in Malta, and when I found Pope Joan and Teatru Malta's support the decision was set in stone, and here we are today.

 

Who is Pope Joan to you, today? 

Joan is a girl who is very eager to learn and to understand the world around her. During her time girls were absolutely excluded from even learning how to read and write. This is a focal point in the play. Sadly, in many parts of the world it is still not permitted for girls to get any school education.

My Joan of nowadays would actually be Malala, the young woman from Pakistan, who put her life at risk in order to fight for female education. She won the Nobel Prize for Peace, and has been an inspiration for many, myself included, ever since.

 

This show is set in the 9th century, why do you feel this piece would be relevant to a modern audience? 

In our production design, taken on by German set and costume designer Joachim Hamster Damm, we stick to historical time frames as reference points for costumes and staging to keep all as similar to what was used in medieval times with some occasional hints of the present day. The modern technical element will be the projections we're using, created by highly acclaimed and my personal favorite theatre photographer: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

The choir Capella Sancta Catharinae', directed by Alex Vella Gregory, needs very little introduction and will be part of the play, singing Gregorian Chants, but don't be surprised if they step into another direction too. At the end of the day Pope Joan tells the story of a woman who rises into a powerful position, disguised as a man serving as a reminder to all our audiences that the path to gender equality, even in our modern day Western countries, is still long, bumpy and far from near it's end!

 

Pope Joan will run from 6 to 12 July as part of the Malta International Arts Festival. The show has been made possible with the support of Festivals Malta, Arts Council Malta under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice Culture and Local Government, the Restoration Directorate Rehabilitation Project, Goethe Institute, US Embassy and The German Maltese Circle. For €20/€18 TICKETS or more information visit kultura.mt

 

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