Theatre Next Door’s new production Lovesong: L-Għanja tan-Namra hits the stage in Magħtab this week. It’s a translation of Lovesong (2011) written by Abi Morgan for Frantic Assembly, an internationally renowned UK-based theatre company with a reputation for exciting productions. The play is both translated and directed by SIMONE SPITERI, so Esther Lafferty caught up with her to find out more.

“We’re going through rather a renaissance in translating contemporary relevant and important works into Maltese which is great to see,” smiles Simone Spiteri, who’s translated script for Lovesong: L-Għanja tan-Namra is due to be staged at Theatre Next Door from February 16.

“This was more common in the 20th century, until it became trendy to import and perform plays in English in the late nineties. That opened us up to new writers but it meant that I grew up in a theatre scene where seeing works in Maltese was not that common. It is great to see both now.”

 Spiteri has previously translated several scripts into Maltese – including Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse.

“Because the structure and humour of English and Maltese are so different, translating works and keeping them relevant is generally a real challenge, which I love,” Spiteri explains.

“However, this show lends itself particularly well to Maltese. While it uses the modern language for everyday communication, the script is very poetic, playing with metaphor as it plays with time. Lovesong is actually a very simple story – the life span of two people who choose to live their life together, which in this day and age is quite a feat,” she adds.

Rather than being romanticised, Spiteri says the show is about being in a relationship and about choosing other people to play a pivotal part in your life – something both beautiful but often messy.

“It’s very interesting to hear the views of other people involved as they have different takes on it, depending perhaps on their age and their experiences,” she says. “Some see it as a hopeful play, others think it is sad, for example, and that’s the magic of theatre, that it can evoke such different feelings.”

The cast includes two pairs of actors, the first playing a couple, Billie and Maggie, in their 70s, and the second, the same couple in their early thirties.

It’s a trigger for existential conversations

“Interestingly, the show doesn’t use the traditional concept of flashbacks: instead, it interweaves them cleverly and all four actors are on stage together most of the time,” she explains. 

Theatre Next Door is small and intimate performance space which heightens the idea that there is no separation between the couples, and the audience may feel like a peeping Tom, right in the heart of their relationship.

The action plays out in a minimalist set that includes a house – kitchen and bedroom – which is central to what’s happening, and a garden beneath the canopy of a large tree.

There is also a carpet of autumn leaves and these move across the stage beneath the actors’ feet adding an organic feel. These reflect the organic journey of the character’s lives as they grow up, grow old, connect, disconnect and reconnect.

“It’s a trigger for existential conversations!” adds Spiteri.

Simone SpiteriSimone Spiteri

Two giants of Maltese theatre – Lino Mintoff and Josette Ciappara – are playing the older couple, alongside Marceline Galea and Mark Mifsud, and they are energetic pairings about whom Spiteri is very excited.

“It’s fantastic that Lino Mintoff is on stage again after 18 years. He’s an incredible actor and I am loving the reaction I get when I tell people he’s back,” she says.

“Both Mintoff and Ciappara have been part of the fabric of Maltese theatre for decades. They were in plays before I was born, plays that I then studied. Josette [Ciaparra] was the principal of the drama school where I was a student and I owe a large chunk of what I do today to the opportunities she gave me and her encouragement, and so it is a great privilege to work with her now. It’s very special to have her trust me as a director.”

For this show, Spiteri has also been working with a movement director, Moritz Zavan Stoeckle, and his vision and the choreographed way the characters’ fluid transitions in time and space helps to tell the story.

“We also have a new original score, composed by Chris Galea, which elevates the performance. It’s beautiful and melodic, and while it’s mostly harmonious, it is very layered, incorporating both the melancholic ephemerality of time and the energy of youth, and the occasional jarring element too. Integral to the performance, and perhaps a musical reflection of the show itself, it’s a summary of life, and a life lived together,” she says.

Lovesong: L-Għanja tan-Namra runs from February 16-25, with support from by Arts Council Malta. There are two Sunday shows with English subtitles for non-Maltese speakers.

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