And here's another campaigner who has taken an honest position

Published: July 8, 2009 at 1:31pm


Adrian Buckle of the theatre production company Unifaun has written the piece below, which is currently on Adrian, too, campaigned for a theatre and against a parliament house on the opera house site.

Like Ian Waugh (see my previous post), his motivation was honest and his concerns genuine, and so is his reaction to the plans.

I am glad that Adrian has contributed the first sensible arguments to the ‘open or closed’ theatre discussion.

Anything I say on this score is going to be dismissed by the Teeny Beach Army as politically motivated, even though it is driven instead, like almost anything else I do and say (well, I am a liberal, after all) by a pragmatic approach to the market.

The point that the Kenneth Zammit Tabonas, the George de Bonos and the Astrid Vellas of this country miss, despite their superior pretensions to high culture, is that an open theatre is an entirely different animal to a roofed theatre. It is not something ‘less than’ but something ‘different from’.

They miss another point, too: that an open theatre is not somehow more ‘seasonal’ or ‘part-time’ than a theatre with a roof on. Roofed theatres like the Manoel are used seasonally, too. Nobody wants to go and sit inside an enclosed space and watch a play or listen to a recital between May and October.

That’s why all current performances are taking place outdoors, in gardens, courtyards and public squares, with makeshift stages and haphazard seating, and not at the Manoel Theatre or the Mediterranean Conference Centre or even the Catholic Institute. In the Mediterranean, summer life takes place outdoors, especially in the evenings.

Maybe the Kenneths, the Astrids and the Georges will listen to Adrian if they won’t listen to me. But then again, they won’t even listen to Renzo Piano, so the odds of that happening are rather low.

Adrian Buckle,

I had vowed to myself not to write about theatre this week, but with such an important topic, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t.

First of all, let me explain where I come from. When the idea that the old Opera House site should host a parliament building was first issued, I was one of the most vocal people against the idea. Let me be clear. I had and still have no problems with parliament finding a new venue. I just didn’t agree that it should be placed on a site traditionally dedicated to the arts and theatre. I even formed a very successful facebook group about it and got support from different areas both locally and abroad.

Now the plans are out. Piano’s designs include both a Parliament building in Freedom Square and an open-air theatre on the old opera house site. My position on this, not that it should interest anyone, is that I have no objection to this. What I do have is questions on functionality. But let me elaborate.

First of all, I think it is high time that we had an open-air theatre in Malta. The one at Ta’ Qali is a joke and is never used. This could be the solution. I have seen Piano’s designs and have seen the intelligence in the planning. We will have a theatre that can be moulded to accommodate different types of performances, be it classic or modern. No theatre in Malta so far can do that successfully, with the possible exception of St James Cavalier, but that space is far too small. I agree with the concept of an open-air theatre because it will offer theatre new possibilities in the summer months, when everything connected to theatre seems to die off. If this space is built properly, keeping performance as the priority and people who live theatre are consulted and their advice taken on, then I think that we have a very interesting project.

Some might protest that we already have open spaces used for performance. True, but that does not make them good spaces. A square with seating facilities remains a square with seating facilities. It doesn’t become a theatre. Others will protest that in the winter months this space will be of no use. Maybe. But I have been to London and attended open-air performances in the rain. The world’s most famous theatre, the Globe, is open-air to some extent. Also, I would argue that an open-air theatre does not have to be functional in the winter months. So isn’t it better to have a proper theatre instead? Not necessarily. The fact that we still need a proper modern theatre takes nothing away from the fact that we also need an open-air space. My reasoning is that we are Mediterranean people. Mediterranean theatre is usually open-air, so let us be honest with what we need. My suggestion to the traditional theatre dilemma would be to look into the Mediterranean Conference Centre and arrange that space into a usable space. I have been to the Olivier and the Lyttleton in London. Both are similar to the MCC in structure and yet have no acoustics problems, no functionality problems whatsoever. And they seat more or less the same amount. So, why can’t we amalgamate that project to the Piano project (I am sure Piano could design a proper theatre in that space) and get a proper theatre in the bargain. Money for culture is available through the EU, so the argument that we can’t spend more money is non-existent.

Does this mean that I endorse Dr Piano’ designs completely? No. I still have questions of functionality. One important factor is that careful planning of activities in the area now becomes imperative. We can’t have, say, an Isle of Malta MTV concert going on nearby if there is to be a performance. Other questions that come to mind: Will the locals be sending me the police if a production is too noisy? Will I be able to produce an adult performance in this space or are we only envisaging Mary Poppins productions? Will the noise of the different festas affect a performance? Will I be able to stage a performance if there is a parliamentary session next door? Some might find these questions trivial, but to producers like me, they are not. You will forgive us for believing ourselves to be artists and for wanting the perfect conditions for our work. If these ‘trivialities’ are not taken into consideration, the open-air theatre space will be just another failure, like the one at Ta’ Qali; a space that no self respecting artist can use.

18 Comments Comment

  1. AAAARRRGGGHHHHH! Remove that photo of me at once!

  2. eros says:

    A very honest and constructive contribution from somebody who lives the theatre – well done. Never mind the photo! As I must have written somewhere else, the designs presented so far are at the ‘advanced conceptual’ stage, and you can rest assured that as the detailed drawings are being prepared, this will necessitate some changes and maybe even some re-thinking on some aspects. No doubt the traffic studies have to be commissioned, which will address all aspects of the project, including security, emergency vehicles access, delivery vehicles, etc., and again these might tweak the current thought process slightly. Let’s wait. Overall, however, I have no doubt that this will be a grandiose project which will enhance not just Valletta but the whole country.

  3. Marita says:

    Mr. Buckle, when I was little, you used to teach me drama. Note, that Daphne is Daphne and she’ll do it her way. I don’t think that she’ll remove that photo. Daphne, you’re my style guru ;) :)

    [Daphne – It’s a good photograph. It’s on Maltastar, too.]

  4. Rita Camilleri says:

    Nice expressive photo. Well done, Adrian – at least you’re honest. I hope your honesty rubs off on some people. Any why all this panic about the open-air theatre? We used to watch Shakespeare plays put on by the MADC at San Anton Gardens. Now with this theatre hopefully the seats will be more comfortable.

  5. PSA says:

    Photo taken in St Elmo Primary School, Valletta. wink! wink!

  6. John Azzopardi says:

    A truly honest and open position. Well done. I too was against the parliament being built instead of the ruins. Now we have the answer from Renzo Piano. I rest my case.

  7. Ian says:

    Finally some sense!

  8. Leo Said says:

    Adrian, the black and white photo is worthy of a theatre professional. I would only have trimmed the top part, starting approximately 5mm above your head.

    Memories of mine from years back become vivid practically each time that I encounter the picture.

  9. Adrian’s contribution had me recall “The world upside down ” by the Ship of Fools, in Birgu. There were fireworks let off from nearby Zabbar (I believe) and the presenter passed a comment that he thought there was a war going on.

    San Anton was in the flight path of the Gozo helicopter service at night.

    I think that no technology is good enough to totally eliminate the loud bangs from fireworks which are let off from all the surrounding cities around Valletta’s two harbours.

    One has to live with them, Adrian, or better still adapt to the fireworks display timetable. I mean to say that at 22.00 sharp on Sundays there will invariably be a “kaxxa tad-dhul” which will last for more than 15 minutes . Naturally after that there will be a “baraxx” of around 20 petards in quick succession, which will move the decibel meter to its highest possible readings and trigger 20% of the alarm systems within a two-mile radius.

    And from nearby Mqabba at Santa Marija you will hear the air-raid siren whining at night for half an hour.

  10. Karl says:

    What a difference listening to honest words of wisdom. Congrats, Adrian. Excellent comments and much to be admired.

  11. Karl says:

    As for your picture you needn’t worry because it’s not the decorations but what is under the skin that counts most.. Besides I think you’re very handsome.

    [Daphne – Oh, sweet Jesus.]

  12. Hilary says:

    I attended the performance of Puerto Flamenco at the Argotti over the weekend. Fireworks were being let off in the far distance. Would you believe it but the colourful display of exploding concentric circles actually enhanced the performance rather than marred it? It was a show within a show. After all, Malta is renowned for this type of summer entertainment and for its fireworks. Even Orhan Pamuk in his novel The White Castle refers to a Maltese who was commissioned to prepare a fireworks display at the sultan`s birth – and this illo tempore.

  13. tony pace says:

    Full marks for clarity of thought and persuasion. Daphne has a way of selecting her characters at both ends of the scale. Wish we had more ”People” like you putting in as the old saying goes, their tuppenny’s worth (no reflection on the value of your contribution of-course)

  14. Paula Fleri-Soler says:

    Good Morning Daphne, thanks for The Two Gentlemen of Verona plug. Hope to see many of you there… And, who knows, maybe in a few years’ time the MADC will be producing its annual Shakespeare in a lovely new open air theatre space.

    [Daphne – My pleasure.]

Leave a Comment