Two Maltese theatre artists and activists will perform their award-winning production on Malta’s strict abortion laws this summer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, one of the largest arts festivals in Europe.

Abortion remains a great taboo in Malta, the only EU country where the procedure is completely illegal.

Following three years of interviews with women who anonymously contributed their own experiences, actors Marta Vella and Davinia Hamilton interrogate those strict laws in Blanket Ban.

Presented by Chalk Line Theatre, Blanket Ban was one of the winners of the Untapped Award, given by New Diorama Theatre, Underbelly & Methuen Drama in the UK.

It provides a prime venue and time slot at the Underbelly event venue in Edinburgh.

Vella, Hamilton and director Vikesh Godhwani speak of the play as a “consciousness-raising exercise”.

The two artists started brainstorming for the play in 2019 when Malta held its first pro-choice rally, organised by Voice for Choice.

Despite going into lockdown in 2020, the two spent their time conducting dozens of interviews over Zoom and were even funded by the Arts Council England to carry out research for the production.

“The play is a call to action and a love letter to our home country,” Hamilton said.

“For a long time, I have been interested in the significance behind Malta’s abortion ban and why it is such a hotly contested topic when, in reality, hundreds of Maltese women each year have abortions.”

Vella said the pandemic made the situation even more pertinent for women trying to get an abortion. Despite the challenges, Maltese women could previously fly to another country to get an abortion but, when borders closed because of the pandemic, this was no longer an option.

She said the show is an “extension of herself” because being Maltese is an important element of her identity. She identifies more as a Maltese artist now more than ever before, having lived in the UK for some time.

“Currently, I don’t think that there’s anything else that I want to investigate more through my art. Winning this prestigious award as Maltese artists in the UK, at a time when the arts are just starting to pick up again, means a lot to us,” she said.

Back in 2018, Vella had starred in De-Terminated: The Abortion Diaries. She is still in touch with the real woman behind the character she interpreted and her story is also included in Blanket Ban.

“De-terminated presented both sides of the debate with the aim to provoke and raise questions,” she said.

“Four years ago, the situation was very different and the play was at the forefront of that debate at the time. These days, more people are open to having a conversation about abortion and this show reflects our pro-choice stance. We believe a blanket ban on abortion is an infringement of human rights.

“The play also documents our own journey as Marta and Davinia in the making of this play. We wanted to be completely vulnerable and transparent in sharing our own lived experience.”

Hamilton hopes the play will help people realise how common abortions are, even in Malta, and why people choose to have them.

“This play is, in part, a consciousness-raising exercise and we hope that it might open up the possibility of a new angle on the discussion,” she added.

The show, Vella said, was unlikely to change the laws overnight but would tell stories that have been silenced.

“Neither we nor the fabulous people who work incessantly as part of the Maltese pro-choice movement aim to change everything at once but it feels good to be doing our bit.”

Godhwani said the production team has experimented and developed different styles and techniques for the play.

“We are now very excited to get into the rehearsal room to take the show to the finish line,” he said.

Tickets for Blanket Ban are currently on sale. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival will take place from August 4 till 28.

“As for Malta, it is really important to us that Maltese audiences get to watch the show so it’s definitely a priority to make it happen in the future,” Godhwani said.

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