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Have we finally struck oil?

“Satire is a lesson, parody is a game,” novelist Vladimir Nabokov once famously said.

Many might be going to watch the satirical play Sibna ż-Zejt with the impression it would provide the staple slapstick we normally associate with theatre in Maltese. There is, of course, a good dosage of that in the production currently running at the Manoel Theatre.

But in reality Wayne Flask’s script is much more than that. It is a lesson in non-conformity, a wonderful exercise of satire which should inspire us to speak out against social injustices, political propaganda, intellectual poverty and the obliteration of the environment.

It’s the year 2036, Joseph Muscat is still in power, and he seems incapable of losing an election. Democracy has morphed into a benign dictatorship-cum-voluntary monarchy, amid no Opposition.

Covered in cement, Malta has been sold off to contractors and the Chinese feel at home. A racist pimp spews far-right diatribe. The Church is losing popularity. Sounds familiar?

Flask’s script spares no punches and everybody is in the line of fire, including Times of Malta.

So I wondered why a good number of those watching last Sunday’s show at the Manoel Theatre were almost scared to smile, let alone laugh out loud.

Was it because the story on stage (which does have its flaws) was so close to reality, I wondered?

But I suspect the reason is because the Maltese are imbued with a certain fear just in case they upset the authorities. What would audience members think if you’re a Labour voter laughing at Muscat’s expense?

Instead, there were uncomfortable giggles at the clever satirical jokes. I even heard some expressions of disapproval being mumbled by some members in the audience who felt the political digs went too far.

It was sad to see so many theatregoers laugh out loud solely at the slapstick, at the sight of the actor rubbing his crotch, or the crude Maltese words.

Which is ironic. We criticise everything under the sun provided it’s done behind the comfort of a keyboard. But many will not stand up and speak out against discrimination, political or environmental injustice because they fear recriminations. They fear challenging the status quo. And more often than not, such fear is irrational.

Freedom of speech is a luxury we have at our disposal so why are we still scared to tap into it? Maybe many still believe they could meet the same fate of the author/artist featured in the play, who was exiled on Filfla for protesting against social and political injustice.

Unlike his two conformist brothers, his crime was to speak out in public, demand more openness on State TV… and refuse to watch Xarabank!

He speaks of his dream to see a Labour Party which really fights for workers’ rights, a State broadcaster which doesn’t act like a gatekeeper, he wants derelict buildings to be demolished to make way for fields, to see black people treated like equals, and to see courts act fairly with everybody. And of course he yearns for the day he can see AD chairman Arnold Cassola dressed up smartly.

Before receiving his sentence the artist was asked to choose: either be subjected to watching endless videos of Eileen Montesin or be exiled. You know the answer.

We also have choices. Sometimes there is no better way to deliver a message of protest than using art as a vehicle.

Let’s hope this coming weekend those attending the show will understand that we’re finally taking satire a step further. And we need to do so, because it will help get us out of our self-imposed straitjacket.

Satire can indeed be the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.

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