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Island paradise's dark secrets spawn rum-fuelled Fringe hit

Adelaide Fringe

A working holiday in the  Mediterranean ‘island paradise’ of Malta saw two British theatre-makers uncover dark secrets and weird politics… all of which inspired their award-winning Fringe show featuring a live dog, rum and sea shanties.

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“Like a live rum-fuelled documentary,” is how UK-based Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole describe Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats.

The show – which sold out at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and has won a string of awards, including Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award for 2019 – has been described as raucous and charming, but at the same time explores issues like migration, corruption, and the nature of “home”.

It all started, as Biscuit and Mothersole tell InDaily, with a Brexit-year trip to Malta in which they expected to celebrate their final year as Europeans by drinking rum with expats and performing at The Pub.

Clearly, what happens in Malta doesn’t stay in Malta. So – in a nutshell – what did happen in Malta?

We were invited by our Maltese friend Charlie Cauchi to come to Malta and perform as part of Valletta European Capital of Culture 2018. We were put on residency at The Pub, an old expat drinking-hole (and famous death-place of actor Oliver Reed, which they are VERY proud of).

We were asked to make a show about what we found there, to be performed in The Pub later that year as a one-off show for the Capital of Culture year. We genuinely thought we’d have a free holiday, get paid, get drunk and go home and forget about it. In fact, we’d already started work on another show called No Refunds, which was about the lottery – we went as far as having a human-sized hamster wheel made for that, which nearly killed us live on stage during a work-in-progress.

However, what we found in Malta was unforgettable and we scrapped the other project to work on this show instead.

What were the “weird politics” and dark secrets you discovered on the island?

In the in-flight magazine on the first plane out there, we discovered an advert for “Golden Passports” – Malta is one of only a few European Union countries that are selling European passports. For “just” 650,000 Euros ($1.075 million), anyone can buy a Maltese passport and therefore have access to freedom of movement across the EU.

At the same time, Malta is receiving a lot of refugees and asylum seekers who leave Libya in small boats and risk crossing the Med. Thanks to a new European law called “Operation Sophia”, EU boats are no longer allowed to rescue them. Instead, they must hand them back to the Libyan Coastguard and to Libya, where there are many accounts of torture, human trafficking and other horrific things. Any money that the EU had been spending on rescuing people in the Med instead was diverted to paying the Libyan Coastguard to keep people in Libya. The people who make it to Malta and therefore Europe are treated very differently to the British “expats” drinking at The Pub.

By total coincidence we also happened to be in Malta for the anniversary of the (at the time) unsolved murder of political journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. She was assassinated by a car bomb outside her house. We met people who knew her and worked with her, and we looked into her investigations – some of which were digging into the Golden Passport scheme. We went to the marches, to her hometown, and visited the memorial for her in Valletta town centre that mysteriously is removed each night.

In the last couple of weeks, a lot has come out about her assassination – the Malteste Prime Minister has resigned, cabinet ministers have been accused and her work has been vindicated. We will be updating the end of the show to reflect the ongoing revelations.

Drink Rum with Expats is set during the year of Brexit, and it sounds like you met a lot of expat Brits on Malta who had already made their own exit. What drove most of them to leave the UK?

Many of the British expats we met at The Pub had voted Leave, but also wanted to personally remain living in Europe. They wanted Britain to “take back control” but had no intention of ever moving home and leaving the “sun, sea and fiscal freedom” (as they called it).

They were not worried about their status being affected once Brexit happened. There seemed to be a lot of double-think going on – they were totally convinced that because they were British, they would always be allowed to live where they wanted, in a way that they wanted.

How do all these experiences play out on the stage in your Fringe show?

The show is all set in The Pub. We are serving behind the bar as the audience come in (free beer!). The audience members live our discoveries with us – we have photos and videos of our trips to Malta, and the audience meet everyone we met through audio and pictures as well as storytelling and song. It’s like a live rum-fuelled documentary.

We’re told to expect “a live dog, live rum, live sea shanties and a solid amount of holiday snaps”. Really? A live dog … and rum? For you or the audience?

For everyone! Obviously you don’t have to drink the rum or pet the dog if you don’t want to. (Just a hint, though: if you do want rum, the brave people who sit in the front row always get rewarded first).

Amid the laughs and high spirits, what are the lessons to be learned about nationhood, migration and supposedly idyllic dream destinations?

We’re not intending to lecture anyone, just to show our discoveries of one very specific situation which raised questions for us that resonated beyond the island– why are some people “expats” and others “immigrants”? Who is responsible for whom? Where do the borders of responsibility lie? How much are we all ignoring? What can we even do? Should we all just have a beer and try to forget?

Sh!t Theatre’s Drink Rum with Expats will be presented at Holden Street Theatres from February 11 to March 15 as part of the 2020 Adelaide Fringe. It’s recommended for ages 18+. See more InDaily Fringe and Festival stories and interviews here.

 

 

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