Theatre fanatics and newcomers are in for a treat this September, as the award-winning play, Stitching, will finally be staged at the Teatru Manoel Studio Theatre, following almost a decade-long battle against censorship.

Here we spoke to Anthony Neilson, author of the previously-banned play, about this welcomed move towards freedom of expression in the local arts scene, and he shared an uplifting message for writers based in Malta.

How would you describe your career as a playwright?

I’m not sure I think of myself as a playwright exactly. I create most of my shows in rehearsal with actors, so the direction and conceptual work is as much a part of it for me as the writing. On the few occasions when I have to sit alone and write, I find that very difficult. But I feel lucky that I was gifted with a means of expressing myself; many people live their lives never feeling heard in any way.

I most cherish the moments, however small, when everything – writing, performance, design – comes together to move an audience, or even just to make them laugh. The fact that Stitching has played even a small part in changing censorship laws in Malta is a highlight for me, even though I think that all the credit should go to Unifaun Theatre Company’s Adrian Buckle.

How does it feel to have Stitching performed in Malta, almost 10 years after it was banned?

I’m just amazed by Adrian’s perseverance over this time. For me personally, Stitching was written a long time ago and I don’t tend to look back at my work. I’m not sure how it can live up to the anticipation. It’s just a play; and most modern audiences will probably rightly wonder what all the fuss was about. I just hope Adrian isn’t totally bored with it by now!

Did you ever anticipate the possibility that the play could have been banned in the first place?

No. I know that the subject matter is strong, but I’ve never felt that Stitching was an immoral play. It’s not about sex; it’s about grief and self-loathing, and how that’s expressed in the central couple’s toxic sexuality. It’s just a play and, like any play, what an audience gets from it will depend on what they bring to it. I think one has to separate the piece from its cultural significance in the struggle against censorship. Its themes are emotional and timeless – it was never intended to be an overtly political piece.

And finally, what advice would you give to writers in Malta – whether locals or expats?

Art is vital in any system of oppression and censorship. Our job is to ask questions – of ourselves and our systems – to stimulate thought and encourage empathy. I don’t believe we have to have answers, but we have a duty to be truthful and not to become the foot-soldiers of the state. It is, to my mind, vital that there be a separation between Church and State; anything else is something less than freedom.

I hope it will soon be viable to work full-time in the arts in Malta, completely free of external surveillance. There is always a place for moral boundaries but those boundaries are a matter for the individual artist. It’s easy for me to say this from the UK, but I would just encourage all Maltese artists to be brave. You will always have the support of your colleagues around the world.

Stitching is supported by Times Events and will be performed at the Teatru Manoel Studio Theatre on 14, 15, 16, 19, 21 and 23 September 2018, featuring the original cast of Pia Zammit and Mikhail Basmadjian, under the direction of Christopher Gatt. Tickets are priced at €20 and are available via the Teatru Manoel website at www.teatrumanoel.com.mt