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by Anthony Neilson

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Tebut Isfar

ta ' Clare Azzopardi







Author:   Anders Lustgarten

Translator:   Immanuel Mifsud

Director:   Herman Grech

Cast:   Mikhail Basmadjian, Pia Zammit

Set Design:   Romualdo Moretti

Venue:   St James Cavalier


13, 14, 18, 20, 26, 28 February 2016 in English

19, 21, 25, 27 February 2016 in Maltese


In its overseas premiere, the powerful play Lampedusa contrasts the lives of a fisherman retrieving the bodies of refugees drowned at sea with a Syrian woman facing daily prejudice in the UK. 

Through two interwoven monologues, Stefano (Mikhail Basmadjian) narrates his terrifying, yet real stories. And in bleakest corners of the UK, Denise (Pia Zammit) collects pay day loans, witnessing crippling hardship and faced with a barrage of complaints about immigration.

Anders Lustagarten’s powerful story puts us behind the headlines of two strangers finding hope and connection where they least expect it.

Set in Lampedusa and the UK, the storyline echoes the sentiments felt in Malta. 




What the Papers Said:


Unifaun gives a voice to the European migrant crisis at St James

Poor souls out at sea

Indifference and complacency have led the vast majority of us to set aside our humanity in the face of a very real, terrifying ordeal which sees its victims at the mercy of both the harshness of the elements and the unrelenting prejudice of people. 

Anders Lustgarten’s script for Lampedusa, produced by Unifaun Theatre and currently running at St James Cavalier, examines the migrant crisis which is affecting Europe as millions of people make the treacherous journey across the “blue desert” of the Mediterranean Sea. 

It is an expanse of water whose vastness obliterates, swallowing its victims by the boatload, oblivious to age, race and gender. Interestingly, for this performance, the two narrators, who engage the audience in a direct address, were not migrants themselves, at least not in the commonly accepted meaning of the term, but people who deal with them on a close, personal level. 

Mikhail Basmadjian played a Lampedusan fisherman whose secondary job of ‘fishing out’ dead migrants’ bodies from the sea with his friend Salvo, pays better than his dwindling primary job. He becomes an emotional migrant – forever displaced in his attempt at understanding the motivation behind the migrants’ choice to travel the treacherous waters, while struggling to come to terms with the changing bigoted attitudes of his fellow Lampedusans and the larger European audience. 

His anger at the islanders’ abandonment by the authorities and the EU, is evident, but his kindness and humanity equal this in their pity and horror of what the poor people he attempts to rescue, experience as they float towards perceived safety and freedom on a rickety boat, exploited by traffickers and terrorised by the elements. 

From indifference to solidarity, he struggles with his own post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing so many scenes of death – breaking down in front of the audience and admitting to the nightmares where he sees all those poor, lost souls, after having appeared impervious to the horror of the dead at the start of the play, factually listing and describing the different types of corpse he deals with almost on the daily. 

Intercutting the fisherman’s story in Lampedusa is the story of a British-Muslim woman, who was born and bred in the UK, but suffers from the injustices levelled towards immigrants, while, ironically feeling guilty for perpetrating injustices upon others herself.

Pia Zammit sensitively plays a half-English, half-Muslim single woman from Leeds, who is a cultural migrant, straddling two cultures and two religions, getting abuse from both.  Her job as a loans collector to subsidise her Open University politics degree leads her to meet immigrants from a diverse number of countries as well as a considerable amount of prejudiced out-of-work yobs who swear and spit at her. She has to deal with her ageing and disabled mother’s benefits claims and later her death, exposing the terrible cracks in British society and highlighting the class-divide. She feels displaced is in a country where her headscarf makes her stand out and her accent makes her fit in, where she has a strong work ethic and a ruthless manner in the execution of her job, votes Tory and yet feels terrible for having to force a poor old woman to pay her dues.

Both actors are supported by Romualdo Moretti’s minimal set – an outcrop of rock by the beach – and Chris Gatt’s tonal lighting, which set the mood very well. While Basmadjian’s interpretation was a touch more empathic and impassioned than Zammit’s, and could have done with a shade more of softening, it was a strong performance and a credit both to him and director Herman Grech, who, as a journalist, has very personal experience in dealing with this topic and whose influence could be clearly felt.

Zammit excelled in her role and gave a nuanced performance which infused pathos with a good dose of humour and made her character credible and instantly likeable. Interestingly, it was these two characters’ growing friendships with the immigrants they dealt with – an Eritrean boat mechanic in Lampedusa and a Portuguese single mother in Leeds – which redeemed their humanity and drove home to the audience that our strengths lie in our ability to find similarities beyond our differences and make significant social connections which are mutually beneficial by redeeming our better qualities and mitigating our cynicism.

This is why Lampedusa is a play to watch – it is not only about awareness but about humanity, about solidarity and, above all, hope.

-Andre Delicata, The Times of Malta, 17/02/16


Lampedusa, Theatre Review. St. James Cavalier, Valletta, Malta.


Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10

The cold wind that had pummelled Malta from the early hours of the morning could not have been more aptly delivered as Anders Lustgarten’s incredible and soul touching play Lampedusa was brought to the St. James Cavalier with the same ferocity of spirit and damning verdict of Europe’s response to the on-going atrocity and loss of human life across Africa and the Middle-East.

That same cold wind that drove red dust from deep within the heart of Africa also brings Human Beings fleeing for their lives and yet certain parts of the media, especially those Hell-bent on creating a storm of their own, will have people believe that they are doing it for money, for hand outs, that they would risk their lives running from the evils of a regime for trinkets made of clay. It is a fallacy of thought that does not do justice to the compassion within humanity for their fellow man or woman and one so wonderfully captured in all its anger, its trafficked opinion and change of heart and one that was directed with absolute dedication by the noted Herman Grech.

When the play was performed in Liverpool at the Unity Theatre, the keenness of the play was such that the close impact of the performers caught many audiences unaware, the difference with hosting Anders Lustgarten’s seminal piece on an island, a country, surrounded on all sides by the very waters that many in North Africa are dying in as they attempt to cross from one continent to another, is that close proximity makes it harder to dismiss, to forget the situation, the cruelty of political thought that stirs in the most narrow minded of actions; it is life and death on such a scale that you cannot help but be affected by it.

The two actors, Mikhail Basmadjian and the ever gracious Pia Zammit bring home the startling reality of what Europe really thinks at times, that we as a body of people have been led to believe about what is happening as people find desperate ways to flee war torn Syria and other countries affected by what can be seen as the tip of the iceberg in climate driven wars.

A production of absolute brilliance and first rate direction, Lampedusa, being performed in both English and Maltese during this particular run, is an absolute must see.

Ian D. Hall; Liverpool Sound and Vision; 19/02/16

Love in the time of darkness

Historically, Malta has had a number of connections with the Italian island of Lampedusa. Not only is it geographically closer to our island than it is to any other part of Italy but the British forces even planned to make it part of Malta in the 19th-century, until Sir Thomas Maitland decided to withdraw the troops and stores stationed there because it presented little or no interest. It seems a minor historical fact, yet one that could have had significant implications in our island’s obligations towards migrants fleeing towards Europe from North Africa.

Anders Lustgarten’s powerful play is essentially two monologues that intertwine around the thorny reality of the 21st century – mass migration to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. It is a reality that is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future) and one which Europe and its allies have directly or indirectly contributed towards.

What is immediately striking about the play is Lustgarten’s choice of stories; the story of a former Lampedusian fisherman who now makes a living fishing out bodies of dead migrants and Denise a young mixed race Muslim girl from Leeds whose family had emigrated from Syria and who is trying to make ends meet and finance her studies by working as a debt collector for a payday loan company. In this way, he chronicles not only the grim start of a perilous journey across the Mediterranean but also the equally grim reality that many eventually face in our urban wastelands. This is what allows the play to transcend the historical and geographical setting and take on a global and timeless perspective.

Herman Grech is well known for his strong, unapologetic stance as a journalist against the growing racism in our country and, as director, he shows himself in full control of this sensitive piece. He has allowed the powerful stories of the two protagonists to take centre stage and adopted a restrained approach to the production. To this end, he had the benefit of two of the best actors on the local stage.

Mikhail Basmadjian plays Stefano the fisherman with equal doses of energy and pathos offering the audience a harrowing glimpse into the tragedy that regularly unfolds in the sea we love so much. His rapport with the audience was spot on and his storytelling precise and sincere. Pia Zammit’s confident stage presence and her skill at sustaining a Yorkshire accent made her character extremely credible, as she gave the audience an unflinching and vivid portrayal of what it feels like to live as an outsider in the Europe that represents the dreams of so many migrants. This was possibly one of her best performances to date.

Despite their desperate circumstances, both characters experience the redemptive force of love and compassion stemming from the most unlikely of friendships. Stefano befriends a young Malian refugee eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife who still has to make the perilous journey across the sea, while Denise befriends one of her debtors, a single Portuguese mother who offers to share her meagre accommodation with Denise when the latter ends in hardship.

Once again, Unifaun has produced a high quality and bold production. Hats off to all the production team, particularly Romualdo Moretti and Chris Gatt for another excellent and evocative set and lighting design. 

Jes Camilleri, The Sunday Times, 28/02/16

We Could Be Heroes

I finally got to watch Lampedusa, the play scripted by Anders Lustgarten and currently being produced by Unifaun at Spazju Kreattiv. As the kids say, it was intense. I cried, a lot, while trying to hide it so as not to freak everyone out. I also laughed, quite a bit. I walked out of there my emotions shred to pieces.

The topic? Migration.

Not again, I hear you groan. Because, let's be honest and ditch the politically correct smiles. Most of us, including those who harbour the strongest sympathetic sentiments about the issue, are fed up of it all.

By now, migration has become merely a prosaic part of our lives. We have come to expect and accept the headlines that tell us another boatload made it to Malta, or capsized halfway through and killed its hapless cargo. Our reaction typically is a shrug and an "oh well,imsieken", before we forget all about it and go back to what we were doing.

We have come to expect to drive past Marsa to see groups of migrants waiting for 'a bicca xoghol' to fall their way. We might huff and puff for a couple of seconds about how these areas of Malta have "become theirs", before we reach our destination and proceed with our happy, safe lives.

Migrants have become just something we deal with without actually dealing with - like the potholes, the heat, the very presence of the Med. And that's the best case scenario. The worst sees racism rearing its head on a constant basis, but I will not go into that here. All you need to do is click on the 'National' section of this website.

But back to Lampedusa. I will confess to being a tad sceptical before I actually saw it. I know what my views on the topic of migration are, and if this was going to turn out to be some attempt at preaching to the converted, I was worried that it would turn out to be a rather boring ride for me. What can I say? I should have known better, given the names involved in the production.

Lampedusa is, first and foremost, a story about two people; their lives, their defects, their fears, their dreams. The fact that each of their lives happens to be tied to the topic of migration is incidental, almost. What matters is that they are far from being perfect  - indeed, when it comes to migration, they pretty much voice the "I'm not racist, but..." sentiment that we are so used to voicing ourselves.

And yet, despite themselves, a series of events takes place to make them forget issues of race and citizenship to make them connect on a human level with these people they fear so much. And man, do they rise to the occasion when required to do so. The narrative progresses in such a way that, when our two protagonists  are suddenly risking everything they hold dear - the one his life and the other her job and dreams - to help "those people", any other course of action would have been unthinkable.

Because,suddenly, these are not "migrants" we are talking about, but real people with real names, real families, real personalities. Suddenly, the two protagonists (and, as a result, the audience) is not thinking of migrants but about a person who is going through some hardships, just like you and I. And who wouldn't want to help out?

With his script, Lustgarten has hit on the very solution for the migration crisis. These are not migrants we are discussing. They are our neighbours down the road, who have no money to pay their bills and might end up with their electricity cut off. They are that man we met at the grocery store, who told us how his heart is broken because his wife is still stuck in Mali and he has no idea whether he will ever see her again.

If only we could remember the people and their stories, as opposed to the statistics, racism would die a natural death.

You do not need to watch Lampedusa with any lofty ideals of making political statements. It doesn't matter if you couldn't give a flying duck about migration; you will still enjoy the play as straightforward, dramatic story. But I have faith that, even if you belong to this category, something deeper will stick to your subconscious, and herein lies the genius of the script (which Immanuel Mifsud did an amazing job with, translating to Maltese, incidentally).

Because Lampedusa comes with a moral, albeit a very subtle one that steers clear of self-righteousness. The moral is one that everyone can get behind: "we can be heroes, just for one day". The play comes with a happy ending, of sorts. And it's a happy ending that would not have been made possible without the selfless actions of our protagonists.

When asked by an audience member how come he chose this ending, instead of perhaps a more realistic one,  Lustgarten's reply was simple:  "I wanted to deliver the message that yes, we can actually do something about migration. It is not true that the problem is bigger than us. We can do more than go home and forget all about it."

We can be heroes, just for one day. And who wouldn't want that?

Lampedusa gets a final showing tonight and tickets are still available online. If you are free go watch it, even just to enjoy a good, gripping story. The rest will happen naturally.

Ramona Depares,, 28/02/16

When Praxis Becomes Unbearable


As the migration crisis escalates, leaving millions of people from war-torn countries – particularly Syrians – displaced and risking their lives on a perilous journey in the hope of finding a better life in Europe, Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa is relevant now more than ever. The renditions of this play put up by Unifaun Theatre Productions at the St James Cavalier throughout February resonated greatly with Maltese audiences, particularly in the depiction of the hard reality that a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean finds itself immersed in as more and more migrants cross the Mediterranean in the hope to start anew in Europe. After viewing the play in its original language, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and attend the Maltese version of the same play. Translated by Immanuel Mifsud, the Maltese version managed to vividly capture certain aspects of Maltese realities surrounding people’s fears and prejudices about asylum seekers through the use of the Maltese language.


The play revolves around two characters living at the margin of austerity-led societies in Europe. Although the two characters are not migrants themselves, they give us an insight into how the issue of mass migration is directly affecting them in their everyday lives. Stefano (played by Mikhail Basmadjian), a fisherman by profession, ends up working as a coastguard fishing migrants – mostly corpses – out of the sea on the island of Lampedusa. Pia Zammit plays the part of Denise, a British Chinese in the original script, who in this production was portrayed as an English citizen of Syrian descent, who works as a collector for a payday loan company in order to fund her studies at university.


The audience is met with a heart-rending performance as both characters take turns to give an account of their experiences, encounters and unlikely friendships with migrants. The play fluctuates between Stefano’s nightmarish stories of the various states of corpses he had found out at sea and his reaction to the migrant shipwreck just off the coasts of Lampedusa which had cost the lives of more than 350 people; to Denise’s hardships as she increasingly became an easy target for racist comments and blamed – together with asylum seekers – for the deteriorating state of the poorest as the political class slashes social welfare. The play therefore reflects the stark reality of the gleaming hope of the few migrant survivors who successfully reach European shores on the one hand, and the bleakness and pessimism permeating in stagnant and austerity-led European communities on the other. Stefano himself remarks this as he defiantly admits that he cannot stand the hope shining in migrants’ eyes when they realise they have been rescued, retorting that in Europe we have forgotten what it is like to have hope.


It is in these unpleasant circumstances in which both Stefano and Denise bump into new friendships, opening up for them new tides of hope and kindness where they have never expected to find them. Stefano encounters Modibo, a Somali migrant who turns out to be the only person in whom he could confide his worst nightmares about his misadventures out at sea. He finally pledges to take his boat and brave a storm in an attempt to rescue his friend’s wife who was crossing the Mediterranean to join her husband. At the end, Modibo’s story is portrayed as a relatively happy one as he gained temporary residence in Lampedusa and was finally reunited with his wife after Stefano succeeded to save her life. Denise meets Carolina, a Portuguese single mother, who is finding it hard to make ends meet but who still offered Denise shelter when she couldn’t withstand her job any longer and decided to quit. Thus, the play takes a different and maybe unexpected turn from a dramatic setting to a more touching one as solidarity and compassion are the chosen themes by which the playwright decided to end his play. Particularly, towards the end we find a scenario where the hostility and indifference associated with a feared other – because of its strangeness and foreignness – fall apart as the characters’ new friendships unfold.


The play not only demanded our attention as an audience, but we were also compelled to share the stage with the actors and get dragged into the shoes of people attempting to get access to social benefits in the UK as Pia went around asking typical questions probed during assessment interviews  that evaluate a person’s capability to work; or migrants left at the mercy of coastguards in dark turbulent seas as Mikhail went round with a flashlight in our faces as he searched for survivors in the open sea during one of his rescue operations. Likewise, the script was very captivating and sought to bring out widespread misconceptions surrounding the sore topic of migration while appealing to our humanity as these two characters grappled with their own prejudices and compassion towards the dire situation of their new friends. I think that the Maltese version strongly captured common perceptions on migrants which we hear in our streets all too often. In particular, I think that the reaction of the Maltese counterpart of Stefano towards Modibo’s friendliness was particularly strong as he was swamped by cynicism and scepticism expressed on the lines of, “wieħed irid joqgħod b’seba’ għajnejn u jgħatti sormu minn kull angolu għax dawn mis-suba’ jeħdulek l-id.”


During a Q&A session with Lustgarten after the Maltese production of the play, he was asked why he decided to end the play on a more optimistic tone, particularly with regards to the happily reunited migrant family, when it is clear that it is rarely the case that migrant couples are reunited again. Lustgarten’s response was that, for him, hope was the only motivator for people to step out of this sense of helplessness and apathy in which our communities have dug themselves into. Our societies have long been lulled into this passivity as our politics is based on the narrative that there is no alternative to harsh neo-liberalism where compassion and solidarity are tantamount to a threat to our economic prosperity and wellbeing. For this reason, Lustgarten argued, it is time that we, the people, teach our politicians that there exists an alternative and we can make a more inclusive and just world happen.


An exhibition by Spazju Kreattiv in collaboration with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) was set up to complement the theme of the play. Exhibited was a small, flimsy inflatable dinghy recovered by MOAS on one of its rescue operations, together with various screens showing short footages and photographs of rescue operations and migrant stories on the one hand, and a protest by the xenophobic and far-right Għaqda Patrijotti Maltin on the other. I touched the dinghy while trying to digest the seemingly impossible task of fitting 90 people (as the attached caption read) into such a small boat while keeping it afloat in the middle of the Mediterranean sea until, if the migrants get lucky, someone notices them and signals for help in time. Although I have been following closely the unfolding of the migrant crisis over the past year, I felt that the rendition of the play and the exhibition brought me closer to understand but a glimpse of what a person might experience in the few moments before boarding a boat heading to Europe, risking never touching land again, let alone embracing friends and family once again.


I applaud the way the performance engaged with such a tangible and sensitive issue, and managed to delve into the complex and precarious realities in which both migrants and the receiving states find themselves in. Artistic performances and engagements like the one Lampedusa presents open up alternative spaces for reflection about and, perhaps, even offer a way of resisting unjust socio-political practices which at times are not immediately visible until they are brought out underneath the spotlight.

-Raylene Abdilla, Local Artistic Produce,  17/03/16

Image Gallery

photos: Christine Joan Muscat Azzopardi