Welcome to The Pub – footie on the telly, and our two hosts in pirate jackets and denim shorts, faces painted with what appears to be the St George cross. Grab yourself some Cisk beer and a bit of cheese. Cisk beer? Ah right, we’re in Malta, and Cisk is Maltese for Czech (you work it out). So not the St George cross, but the Maltese cross – pretty similar. Anyway, Cisk are providing free beer in a sponsorship deal, so enjoy.
So, Malta – what do we know about Malta? it’s an island, small enough for everyone to know everyone else’s business. It’s in the middle of the Mediterranean, inside a triangle with Italy, Tunisia and Libya at the points. It used to be a British colony, independent since 1964, and it’s full of British ex-pats (and why are Brits abroad ex-pats, and everyone else abroad immigrants?). You can buy a Maltese passport for €650,000. Its capital Valletta was a European Capital of Culture in 2018 (cue audience participation ‘ding ding’ every time this is mentioned).
And why Malta? Sh!t Theatre’s Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit find themselves invited over for the Capital of Culture, and given money (‘we like money! we need money!’) to make a show in The Pub, and now they’ve made the show, and brought The Pub to us.
What is this Pub, I hear you say? It’s not just a pub, it is The Pub. That’s its name, and it’s where everyone in Malta goes. All the ex-pats, anyway. The immigrants have their own dive.
The Pub’s biggest claim to fame is that it is here that Oliver Reed had his last drink. And the last but one drink, and the last drink before that. They don’t make too much of it there – not really. Cue video footage panning round The Pub, highlighting all the Ollie Reed photos and T-shirts and mugs and so much more.
In typical Sh!t Theatre fashion, we get facts and fancies, sea shanties sung with great gusto, autobiographical confessions, stories about the telling of stories. We get to drink a rum toast to Reed, pinching his words (‘For the Peasants!”) We even get to learn some Maltese. (We learn that Zop is Maltese for penis, for example – that leads us to a jolly sing-a-long.) On video, we meet a whole raft of eccentric characters. There’s a nice device of meeting people through the cartoon drawings that one well-known Maltese artist has made of the locals in The Pub. We hear about all the immigrants/refugees (not ex-pats, then?) rescued from the Mediterranean daily, from a constant stream of boats of various levels of suitability for the journey that make the crossing from Libya.
It all bounces along merrily, but there are hints of darker things – hints that grow as the piece progresses. A darker side to the migrants’ stories (torture, threats, bribery). A darker side to Malta’s news media, as the story of Maltese journalist, writer, and anti-corruption activist Daphne Caruana Galizia unfolds (after years of threats and attempts to silence her, Daphne was murdered by a car bomb in 2017).
Drink Rum with Expats sees Sh!t Theatre doing what they do best – drinking, joking, singing, confessing, body surfing through the crowd. But, as with other Sh!t shows, there is also social awareness, a journalistic approach to storytelling, and a strong political consciousness permeating everything. In their work, the personal is political, and the political gets personal. Drink Rum is a jolly jape, but it’s a whole lot more too, opening our eyes to things that we don’t immediately see…
There is something slightly unnerving about the mix of lighthearted nonsense and serious reportage – but that’s one of the many things I love about Sh!t Theatre, and the balance is cleverly maintained in Drink Rum. So bravo, another rip-roaring success for our brave buccaneers.
Featured image (top) photo by Bronwen Sharp.
Sh!t Theatre: Drink Rum with Expats is presented at Summerhall by Soho Theatre in association with Show&Tell.