Malta: Ban of theatre play upheld by Constitutional Court

3 December 2012

Shocked producers of the play ‘Stitching’ will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights after Malta’s Constitutional Court of Appeal on 29 november 2012 upheld a ban on performing the production in Malta.

“We feel that this sentence is not a gag on the play ‘Stitching’ but on all artists,” stated the producers of the theatre company Unifaun.

Without watching a performance, the Film and Stage Classification Board banned ‘Stitching’, a play written by Scottish writer Anthony Neilson, in 2009 because of what it perceived as blasphemy, contempt for Auschwitz victims, dangerous sexual perversions, a eulogy to child murderers and references to the abduction, sexual assault and murder of children contained in the script.

The theatre company Unifaun, which planned to stage the play at St James Cavalier in Valletta, strongly contested the ban as a violation of the right to freedom of expression. But the Civil Court ruled in 2010 that the ban was justified, prompting another appeal by Unifaun, culminating in a Constitutional Court judgment by Raymond Pace, Tonio Mallia and Noel Cuschieri which on 29 november 2012 declared that the right to freedom of expression was subject to certain limitations, still without having actually seen the performance.

The fact that ‘Stitching’ had been staged in other countries did not mean it was acceptable in Malta, the court said. The court added that the word “art” could not be used to cover blasphemy and the ridiculing of genocide.

In a statement, Unifaun said:
“Malta is the only country in the world which has allowed a play to be banned without ever having seen a performance.”


‘Explodes with power, discipline, integrity and sheer cruel psychological accuracy… Neilson’s writing has a terrible beauty’
– Sunday Times

‘Shattering, shocking…a serious persuasive account of the blind alleys love can lead us down’
– Daily Telegraph

‘A deeply mesmerising if shocking experience as a couple smashes through taboo after taboo in a harrowing sexual tug of war’
– Evening Standard

‘A characteristically brave and brutal offering’
– The Independent

‘Startlingly rich and challenging, Neilson depicts with aching precision a relationship where love is undermined by distrust’
– Time Out

‘Dirty, gritty, human love stitched with a terrible beauty’
– New York Times

opened at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, August 2002 and transferred to the Bush Theatre, London on 12 September 2002 receiving massive publicity due to its uncompromising nature.

‘Stitching’ follows the dangerously dark and inventive games that the couple play to try and reconnect. As they circle and test each other they move between reality and fantasy, their visceral poetry and physicality culminating in a truly shocking ending.

In 2009 Malta banned the play from public performance. The Maltese government issued a list alluding to references included within the play which were deemed, amongst other things, to be blasphemous, obscene and perverted. The ban upon this piece of writing sparked an international debate upon the issue of censorship within the arts.
Times of Malta – 30 November 2012:
Court upholds Stitching ban
‘This is about freedom of expression’. By Patrick Cooke
Theatre in Wales – 30 November 2012:
‘Stitching’: one of the most controversial and discussed plays of recent years
‘The play contains graphic scenes of a sexual nature and is not suitable for minors’. Advertisement
Facebook page for the performances in Wales
Read more about arts censorship on Malta



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