Despite being one of the most progressive countries on Earth, abortion is illegal under all circumstances on the island of Malta, this surprising fact is the basis for Chalk Line Theatre’s new devised piece, Blanket Ban which is making its debut at the Underbelly Cowgate at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
When the press releases for this show went out, it was looking like the Supreme Court of the United States might overturn Roe v Wade, the legal ruling that enshrined in law a woman’s right to an abortion. Now Blanket Ban is open and Roe v Wade was indeed overturned, putting a woman’s right to choose, or lack thereof, back to the top of the news cycle.
But while the decision of SCOTUS gets all the media attention, Malta’s complete blanket ban on abortion barely gets a mention. Co-writers Davinia Hamilton and Marta Vella are about to change all that, in this searing piece of theatre that interrogates the position Malta has taken.
Blanket Ban is described as a docu-play; storytelling fused with recorded interviews from people who have been directly affected by the law. But it feels like more, directors Sam Edmunds and Vikesh Godhwani bring in a style of gig-theatre to really drive home the messaging.
Davinia and Marta love Malta, parts of the show are devoted to the things that make the country unique, from local delicacies, to stringent Catholicism, to an almost unhealthy obsession with the Eurovision Song Contest.
But for all that’s wonderful, Davinia and Marta are brutally honest about the situation many women in their country face. There are multiple stories being conveyed at once, both via the performance and the interviews. We look at a young girl who has been sexually assaulted and now cannot abort the resultant unwanted pregnancy. Another tells of a business woman with an unviable pregnancy that was forced to carry until full term, knowing she would deliver a child that was already dead.
Blanket Ban is hard-hitting, and painfully eye-opening to the suffering felt by women who have no choice over their own body because of laws passed by (predominantly) male politicians in order to secure votes. The subject is tough, but Hamilton and Vella’s performance is warm and welcoming, brimming with a desire to speak the truth, yet still entertain with this unique style of theatre.
There was an apology at the end of this particular performance of Blanket Ban because a technical malfunction had meant some lighting cues couldn’t be triggered. I’m convinced there was not a person in that audience that will have noticed we watched a few minutes under the house lights, because when you have a piece of theatre this truthfully compelling, and performed with such passion, nothing else matters.