Tribute from Teatru Malta to Manwel Dimech



Il-Qfil u l-Ħelsien Skont Manwel Dimech, produced by Teatru Malta in co-production with FÄŠN, tells the story of Manwel Dimech on the occasion of the centenary of his death. Both hated and revered, the figure of Dimech in the context of Maltese history may not yet be fully understood. Teatru MaltaDimech’s performance, staged in the former Royal Military Prison of Corradino, claims to be an attempt to tell Dimech’s story through his own eyes.

Director and screenwriter Victor Jacono and composer and musical director Kris Spiteri merged screenplay and sound into a seamless and well-balanced production. Jacono’s screenplay is an eloquent tribute incorporating some of Dimech’s own writings, translated with great skill by a very competent cast of actors. Spiteri’s compositions and musical direction, produced by Matthew James Borg, are both versatile and memorable.

Being a site specific production within the Old Prison is one of the strongest elements of the musical. The public is guided along its corridors on a journey through the four major phases of Dimech’s life: his adolescence; his time behind bars; his public life; and his eventual exile in Egypt. Adrian Mamo’s production design allowed the game to unfold on different planes and axes, making exceptional use of large spaces.

Manwel Dimech, played by Joseph Zammit

The musical opens with a song contextualizing the culture of servile obedience into which Dimech (Joseph Zammit) and his fellow Maltese were born – Kulħadd f’Postu (each has its place). Shortly after, we meet Dimech as a young man talking to his mother (Debbie Scerri) after one of his many times in prison. This scene is used to present the demons of Dimech to the public; his frustration and anger crystallize poignantly when he laments: “Jien ma nafx min jien“(I don’t know who I am).

The following is the unfolding of Dimech’s darkest hour. He meets one day his friend says is-SinÄ‹ier (Karl Cassar). At the time, Dimech was 17 years old. The two are approached by Pawlu Genuis (Jonathan Mohnani) to whom Dimech owes money. After Dimech pays, Genuis asks for more and things heat up. Dimech attacks Genuis with a straight razor and seriously injures him. Genuis names the two as his attackers when the police arrive and they are quickly apprehended.

Virginia, Dimech's wife, played by Bettina Paris.Virginia, Dimech’s wife, played by Bettina Paris.

Historically, we know that both were convicted in court the next day. Is-Sinċier, 25, was sentenced to death by hanging. Dimech was sentenced to 20 years in prison with hard labor, of which he served 13 individuals in an enlightenment movement called Ix-Xirka tal-Imdawwlin.

Being a site specific production is one of the strongest elements of the musical.

This marks the start of Dimech’s public life. We are conjured by a speech in which he says the famous lines “Alla ma alaqx ‘il-bniedem għad-dlam”(God did not create human beings to reside in darkness) (this was historically written in 1913 in the journal Il-Bandiera tal-Maltin that Dimech founded).

Dimech’s public life finally led him to exile in Egypt where he spent his last days in concentration camps. We hear the character of Salvu Astarita (Marco Calleja) read in a letter from Juann Mamo to the wife of Dimech Virginia (Bettina Paris) that this unfortunate figure has died.mherri fil-ħmieÄ¡ tiegħu stess”(Riding in its own filth).

I left the room with Zammit’s interpretation of X’Jibqa ‘ taking the form of an earworm in my head, captivated by the prison setting I had just passed through and struggling with a somewhat ambivalent feeling of having just watched a show characterized by heroes and villains.

It would be ridiculous to expect the full range of nuances of Dimech’s life and thought to be portrayed on stage, or even to expect the musical to portray his life in historically accurate detail. from beginning to end. Having said that, I would have liked to have left the room with more insight into some of the more specific aspects of its ideological framework.

I felt that the emphasis was on the need for education as a tool of liberation and how, conversely, the ruling powers of the Church and the colonial government came to vilify this noble objective, but few other aspects of Dimech’s thought have been explored, most notably his efforts. for the emancipation of the working classes in particular, which he extended to the nation as a whole (socialism and nationalism were compatible ideologies in Dimech’s philosophy).

It would be unfair to say that there was no example of this in the musical, but perhaps Dimech’s portrayal would have been more complete if it had been presented more directly.

While the cast showed exceptional skill and tremendous talent, Zammit’s portrayal really stands out. To say the musical was a truly memorable experience would be an understatement. I look forward to the next exceptional production Teatru Malta has in store.

The final show will take place tomorrow December 13th. Il-Qfil u l-Ħelsien Skont Manwel Dimech was produced through Teatru Malta in co-production with FĊN.

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