Mario Philip Azzopardi fumes as new play sent for advice on political bias, suitability for Manoel Theatre subsidy

‘If staged at The Manoel, co-producing the play [Il-Kap tal-Oppozizzjoni] could be interpreted as state-funded propaganda’

 

Theatre director and Labour Party apparatchik Mario Philip Azzopardi is once again making something of an unsubstantiated fuss about one of his plays being ‘censored’.

The fact of the matter is, however, that his new play is being vetted for its suitability to be state subsidised through the Manoel Theatre as it contains politically-charged content that may be inappropriate for the government to be seen sponsoring.

Azzopardi has taken to social media in a Facebook post that virtually screamed: “The Manoel answers: the Attorney General will decide if the play can be presented or not”.

This, however, does seem to be exactly the case for Azzopardi’s new theatrical offering: Il-Kap tal-Oppozizzjoni (The Leader of the Opposition).

Actor and Manoel Theatre board member Malcolm Galea, who did the initial assessment Azzopardi’s script, was quick to interject and explain the situation to the playwright, “for posterity in case you’ve been misinformed”.

Galea informed Azzopardi the AG, or some other authority, will not be deciding on whether the play could be presented or not but, rather, whether “the Manoel Theatre can co-produce your play with you by providing the theatre at a heavily subsidised rate as it has been doing for the past few years”.

Galea, who the government appointed to The Manoel’s as the Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association’s representative, explained reminded Azzopardi that The Manoel is a state entity funded by taxpayers and, as such, it has a certain responsibility to the whole public.

“Since your play lambasts the opposition quite heavily, having it coproduced by a government entity could have ethical issues in a democracy since it can be interpreted as state-funded propaganda,” Galea said.

“Even if you wished to coproduce your play with an individual, they would be well within their rights to have it scanned by a lawyer for possible problematic material. It’s entirely reasonable that the national theatre would do the same.”

Galea went on to remind Azzopardi of how censorship had been abolished back in 2021 and suggested to Azzopardi, “If you’re prepared to use private means, you can stage it immediately and I will be in the audience as I have been for most of your past productions.”

A good reason to insist on The Manoel

But there could be a very good reason that Azzopardi does not want to stage the play elsewhere and is insisting on The Manoel.

As reported by The Shift last April, taxpayer funds have been used to underwrite the script writing and production of Azzopardi’s plays for the past eight years.

According to his contract, The Manoel makes its premises and all its in-house resources available for his productions covered by the contract. This means Azzopardi’s company, Staġun Teatru Malti, bears none of the normal costs when it stages a production at the national theatre.

Azzopardi’s company not only gets paid for writing, and hiring actors and other professionals but is also able to use The Manoel itself, as well as its props, costumes, stage lights, backstage staff, set building staff, wardrobe mistress and front of house entirely free of charge.

According to documents seen by The Shift, Azzopardi was given the exclusive contract in 2014 – signed by the national theatre under the guidance of Chairman Michael Grech. He is granted a ring-fenced budget of €20,000 per year from public funds to write and produce three plays in the Maltese language every theatrical season.

The contract specifies that the budget allocation is to go directly to Azzopardi’s private company, Staġun Teatru Malti, which is also responsible for how the funds are utilised.

The theatre has retained the right to object to any of the scripts presented by Azzopardi, as it did in 2016 when Azzopardi attempted to stage a play that mocked assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The board’s minutes show the script was deemed in bad taste and was rejected.

More recently, Azzopardi repeated his attempt to denigrate the memory of the murdered journalist through a new script he presented to the national theatre for a play titled ‘ix-Xiħa’.

The play was originally turned down by the theatre’s artistic director, however, it was later approved by Chairman Michael Grech’s board and was due to be staged at the end of this month. The news was met with public outrage and the theatre ended up cancelling the production.

Further investigations by The Shift showed how the bulk of that €20,000 annual grant had been used to pay the company’s owners, Azzopardi and his wife Therese.

According to an internal audit carried out by auditing firm RSM seen by The Shift, the payments were described as “improper” and warned that they “may expose the entities involved (the Manoel Theatre and the Arts Council) to unwarranted negative publicity”.

Despite the audit’s conclusions in 2016 – two years after the start of an ad hoc grant arranged for Azzopardi – both the Manoel Theatre and the Arts Council continued supplying the annual funding.

                           
                           
                               
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6 Comments
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Evelyn Vella Clark
Evelyn Vella Clark
16 days ago

Is it possible that such a “genius” cannot write something worthwhile?? Who does he think he is, for always wanting to write nasty plays? Tghid kien fihom kliem baxx u hazin?????

Mick
Mick
15 days ago

Creme de la creme of gahan society, semi literate and a bullshitter with some connections to the “elite”, in the normal world he would be considered a fuckwit, but this is Mafialand, you should be grateful.

Greed
Greed
15 days ago

So the AG will decide,is that because you know she is the
Puppet of the government Mario just like you?

Out of Curiosity
Out of Curiosity
15 days ago

Now the AG will have to decide!!! A puppet in the hands of this filthy government is to decide about the play written by a controversial figure who seems to be a staunch labour. What a laughter of a country!

viv
viv
15 days ago

The playwright equivalent of a billy-club-wielding mob.

Last edited 15 days ago by viv
saviour mamo
saviour mamo
15 days ago

Perhaps we should be given a play about ” Il-Prim Korrott”. That would be interesting.

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