Theatre is a large part of the cultural make-up of Malta. From Shakespeare to Noel Coward, and from original Maltese plays to pantomime, Malta has it all. For such a small island, the theatrical variety on offer is quite amazing, and with performances played in both Maltese and English, they are accessible to a large proportion of residents and visitors. Maltese theatre companies have been around for years, with the oldest, the MADC (Malta Amateur Dramatics Club) having been in existence since 1910. But gone are the original days of purely amateur productions. The MADC, along with all other theatre companies in Malta, now pay their actors to be a part of the show which adds the element of professionalism for both the performers and the audience.
Of course, there are also the likes of Cirque du Soleil and London’s Complicité who make regular visits to the island, but this does not take away from the fact there is such a plethora of local talent to maintain such a thriving theatrical annual program of events with the Christmas pantomimes and outdoor Shakespeare shows being highlights of the year. With Malta also being used for major film productions (Gladiator 2 is currently being filmed here) and many television series (Sky’s Breeders has just finished filming), there is no shortage of work for Malta based actors and crew – I think they have recruited over a thousand locals to be part of the Gladiator sequel!
Going back to theatre, not only can one be an audience member and enjoy the theatrical variety on offer, but Malta has, what I consider to be, one of the most spectacular theatre venues in Europe. The Manoel Theatre in Valletta is reputed to be the third oldest working theatre in Europe having been constructed in 1731 on the orders of Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, Fra António Manoel de Vilhena. A fairly plain exterior hides such an ornate and awe-inspiring interior that I feel very privileged every time I walk in. Seating just over six-hundred, it is intimate but grand at the same time, with three wooden tiers of boxes decorated in gold leaf looking down to the slightly raked stalls and proscenium, all finished off by a gold and pale blue trompe-l’œil ceiling. With some of the side boxes offering a slightly awkward view of the stage, sitting for two hours or more here is not for everyone, but I would urge anyone visiting Malta to take in a show or a concert at this wonderful venue if they can.
With a varied program of music, local and visiting theatre companies, pantomime and being home of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, The Manoel is always busy and a hub of creativity throughout the year. I have been lucky enough to perform at The Manoel a few times since my arrival in Malta in 2017 and it never stops being a fantastic experience. Whenever I am preparing to do a show, I always spend some time walking around the theatre space to take in the atmosphere before the audience arrive and settle into their seats. As I say, a privilege and such an experience every time. Queen Elizabeth II saw many shows here from the Royal Box when she spent time in Malta along with Philip and also Earl Mountbatten, so the history here adds to the scenery.
So, when you’re in Malta, take in a show, support the local theatre scene, and visit the Manoel – you won’t be disappointed!