What are your views about the banning of the play Stitching?

I want to begin by stating two points that are relevant as background for understanding the issue about the banning, which I think deserves discussion but has not received it; namely whether St James Centre for Creativity should be so closely associated with sectarian presentations.

The first premise is simply that I am against all censorship of theatre productions, at least in our context. I do not intend to argue the case here. I will only say that I hold this position for both practical and theoretical reasons. Of course I do not believe that freedom of expression should be absolute, but I do not see why in our present day cultural context the theatre should be treated differently from newspapers or books.

If the editor of a newspaper or the author of a book transgresses one of the acknowledged limitations on freedom of expression by libelling somebody or by offending religious sentiment, criminal action is rightly taken against the offender. It has been recognised to be both impractical and even undesirable in principle for censorship (by which I mean prior examination of the matter to be printed to prevent the commission of crime) to be applied in the case of printed material. In these days of the easiest access possible to any material whatsoever on internet or TV, the same reasoning should apply to the theatre.

What is your second preliminary point?

I have read Stitching and I do not think that I am totally unable to imagine how I would experience it in performance. In fact, a first reason why I have a poor opinion of the play is that it relies almost exclusively on verbal exchange for its effect. It has nothing of the theatrically innovatory language that there was as a kind of redeeming feature in the otherwise more objectionable play Blasted that escaped the censors' ban.

It does not seem to me even to raise the basic question that Aristotle asked about tragedy: "How come human beings can enjoy the representation of painful acts on stage?" His answer was that ordinary people emerged with their commitment to life enhanced through the poetic way in which even the worst aspects of existence were shown.

The terms in which this play has been praised by some do not persuade me in the least that even they found it enjoyable. For instance, they admired it for its capacity to shock. That it has that capacity is itself dubious, but in any case it is very different from the enjoyment, essentially pacifying, that Aristotle had in mind. It may be that some may consider it to be liberating because of taboo-breaking, although I think it is today only a futile smashing-down of open doors, but I do not myself agree that shocking is an identifying mark of creative art.

Can you state more fully the question about the appropriateness of the play being staged at St James?

A first issue that arises is that the manager of St James Centre for Creativity is also the director of the play, who has in fact been its most outspoken defender.

Let me say at once that I was 50 per cent of the selection board that appointed the manager and that I still feel that a better choice could hardly have been made.

I was also keen that his involvement in the managerial side of the centre should not deprive us of his talents as a director or in other artistic functions.

But shadows of conflict of interest begin to arise if the manager allows himself to become intimately associated with a particular and very slanted type of production.

In fact, Unifaun's various presentations all appear to share just one characteristic - shock treatment in whatever way.

One production was a talk-show showing St Paul as not really believing in the resurrection of Christ that the Apostle verbally presents as the sole basis of the Christian faith that he preaches. The chief, if not the only, merit of this play plainly was its offensiveness to the Maltese image of St Paul as their father in faith.

I do not wish in the least to prevent anyone from acting on this aesthetic principle, but I am not enthralled if it appears to be officially adopted by our country's highest centre of creative art.

The responsibility for policy lies squarely with the governing board of the centre.

It is good that the government that appoints the board should not interfere with the board's implementation of the aims of the centre.

But it is unfortunate that the board does not have an officially published national cultural policy for guidance. In any case, however, the board cannot shrug off its responsibility for what the centre presents to the public.

I personally applaud a board that is ready to take risks in order to give space for innovatory talent, especially of local origin, at the necessary expense of occasional mistakes.

But it should not be at the cost of either abandoning any standard of judgment or of favouring any one trend or sectarian aesthetic approach that seeks to attract an audience by scandal-mongering.

Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was talking to Alessandra Fiott.

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