Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella
Southwark Playhouse Borough
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It is a particular contradiction that the nation of Malta has gay and transgender rights that rank as some of the most progressive in Europe, whilst its approach to female equality and women's reproductive rights is so archaic as to be barbaric.
Blanket Ban is a semi-documentary piece of theatre using verbatim testimony in its look at Malta's stance on abortion.
Having criminalised abortion outright, Malta found itself having to address widespread condemnation when a foreign tourist was denied a potentially life-saving abortion following a partial miscarriage. She survived not because the authorities saw sense but because, after a traumatising hospital stay on the island, she was airlifted to safety.
The law was subsequently amended to allow abortion if the mother’s life or health is at risk, but that the Maltese government, in the 21st century, have been willing to let women die rather than have an abortion is nothing short of inhumane.
Blanket Ban is written and performed by Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella, both native Maltese now living in London. The content of the play is very personal to them as they have included ancient myths and stories they heard as children and accounts told to them by their grandparents of the bombing and blockade of the island during the Second World War when it was still a British protectorate.
As well as setting out some background, this idyllic upbringing makes it easy to understand why they continue to love their homeland despite its extreme views against abortion which seems to know no limits—Malta's President George Vella appeared to draw a parallel between abortion and the WWII Holocaust in a speech earlier this year.
Originally created for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, the play has been developed to fill 85 or so minutes and includes passages describing how the pair came to create it, how they felt making it and when the anti-abortion law was amended, and the often abusive response they received for their work.
Using different media and storytelling styles, they hold the attention of the audience but perhaps the later addition of material to extend the running time has not done the piece justice, because it comes across messily, without links where it feels as if it needs them.
Its sincerity is manifest in its rawness but shouting isn't passion and the urgency of a message is rarely conveyed by the speed of its delivery. It could do with taking some time away from the stories to dwell on the wider context and would benefit from some sorting out.
Blanket Ban is something of a curate's egg, but Hamilton and Vella have created a show of such natural honesty you cannot help but be moved by it, probably to anger.
It isn't solely a piece of theatre that carries an important message for our time; it is the invitation to conversation that needs to be taking place urgently. As women’s rights generally and women’s reproductive rights particularly come under increasing attack, we ignore it at our peril.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti