Malta was the European Capital of Culture in 2018. That is something we certainly know about by the end of this show. It was what attracted Sh!t Theatre’s Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole to its shores to perform … well, to perform something or other; they weren’t quite sure what when they arrived.
By the time they left they had learnt a lot more about Malta than they had bargained for, and it’s all stacked into this compelling piece of action theatre.
The show is centred around an expats’ pub in Malta called, interestingly enough, The Pub. The Pub is famous as the place that British film legend Oliver Reed breathed his last after a massive, and now legendary, drinking bout. That is another thing we learn plenty about during this show.
The stage is set up as a pub and the actors get the audience on side by calling us up for a cup of Pale Ale as we file in – real beer, straight from the can. Then we all engage in a sea-shanty sing-along and any traditional stage-audience divide is nicely broken.
We meet the characters of The Pub via photos and hand-drawn caricatures projected on a screen as their stories are delivered to the audience. We learn that Malta is so Catholic that there are Virgin Mary statues presiding over the eggs in supermarkets; we also sing a song referencing the Pope’s “zobb”.
But Malta has also been a magnet for refugees from Syria, Venezuela, Nigeria, and especially Libya, which we should remember was obliterated by NATO bombing a few years ago and turned into a state of virtual anarchy. Stories of the torture of refugees and drownings at sea are spoken directly to the audience by the actors in a living newspaper style.
Juxtaposed with the background of refugee repression is the fact that Maltese European passports can be bought for 650,000 Euros – about one million dollars Australian. A journalist who persisted in asking questions and exposing the corruption was blown up in her car, sparking protests during Biscuit and Mothersole’s 2018 visit to the island. This very serious material is skilfully told in a Brechtian style with songs and documentary footage on screens.
The balance of the show is never too heavy, even though there are black bits near the end. The pacing over 75 minutes is relentless, the timing of the actors is superb. They sing beautifully together, they dance, play the oboe and bagpipes (sort of), pour the audience a tot of rum (and drink it themselves), crowd surf, and squeeze in some of their own stories within it all.
And then there’s always Oliver Reed. We are never allowed to forget about Ollie the Wild One. And the characters at The Pub, and, and … there is so much in this production that the best thing to do is just go and see it.
Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats is at the Holden Street Theatres until March 15.
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