‘Blanket Ban’ review – Malta’s anti-abortion stance condemned with clowning and compelling testimonies


The large, complex sociopolitical landscape of one of Europe’s smallest countries is the focal point of Chalk Line Theatre’s Blanket Ban. Capturing pained, exasperated patriotism for Malta – an otherwise progressive country save for its oppressive ban on abortion – this Edinburgh Fringe transfer is an important but jumbled call to protect reproductive rights.

Drawing upon their thorough research and interviews with those on the ground, Maltese duo Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella present a play which giddily and quirkily celebrates Malta’s culture, while also being scathing in its critique of circumstances which are putting lives at risk. It is as much an education on the little-known country as it is one about the anti-abortion stance of its government.

The problem is that it doesn’t strike a perfect harmony between the two. It lurches from Vella telling us about her grandmother’s efforts during World War II, to a warped sex education lesson with copious amounts of clowning, to devastating testimony where a woman being forced to miscarry ends up infertile as a result of complications. It would be clever if the hyperbole was a way of mocking a country which seeks to sugarcoat its appalling stance on abortion rights by boasting about its tourism offer, but it isn’t.

In fact, Davinia – who is attention-grabbing in her perfectly blunt comments about the situation, including one powerful monologue which would have been a fine conclusion to the play – at one point lambasts the play’s misleading nostalgia given the sensitive subject matter, only for Marta to respond with the argument that we can appreciate Malta’s cuisine and the desire of its citizens to help one another while also condemning its anti-choice legislation. The two can, of course, coexist, but at the same time as demonstrating that the love we can have for our country isn’t always clear cut, the combination of different tones runs the risk of confusing the audience ever so slightly. After all the time spent being silly about Malta – at one point, I kid you not, the pair bust some moves to Darude’s “Sandstorm” – suddenly striking a far more serious approach is jarring and weakens the strength of their overall message.

It would have been far more powerful if it was stripped of its unusual comedy (towards the end of the piece, the pair acknowledge their clowning approach to sex education isn’t making anyone laugh), but as mentioned previously, there is a need for the play to emphasise the otherwise positive aspects of Malta, and the bubblier moments are the points at which these are underscored. There’s definitely no reason why a sense of formality could have been applied to the show throughout, to make the narrative and plot a lot more uniform. They both wear the same blue outfit, after all.

Blue – or rather, the sea – is one poetic motif which runs through the whole production, aided by impressive projections and video design from Tom Fitch. It symbolises the floating baby in the womb, the sea surrounding Malta, and the wave of anger that comes with denying people full body autonomy.

Though in jumping between different stories and narratives (including the experience of a woman named May), Blanket Ban does feel a tad lacking in establishing the gravity of the situation, as rather than having one central plot, it almost appears as an anthology of female experiences. It’s an essential issue to highlight, but could probably be a lot stronger without the clowning, and with a more linear script.

Blanket Ban is now playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 20 May. An audio described performance will take place on 16 May.

Production Images: Ali Wright.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Blanket Ban’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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