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London Calling: Gibraltarian Playwriting in 2023

By Julian Felice

With everything else that has been going on in yet another tumultuous year, it is very easy to overlook that 2023 has been an extraordinary year for local playwriting. Five plays by four different Gibraltarian playwrights have been performed in the United Kingdom this year - two in the capital itself - as further evidence that this particular strand of local writing goes from strength to strength, achieving a level of international recognition rarely enjoyed in this field. As the year comes to a close, it is perhaps only fitting to summarise and celebrate these achievements, while looking at the possibilities for the year ahead. 

All the way back in February, Louis Emmitt-Stern’s I F**ked You In My Spaceship hit the London stage as part of the VAULT Festival. This was but the start of Louis’ phenomenal success with his play, later enjoying a critically acclaimed three week run at the Soho Theatre, as well as being published by NHB Books, one of the leading script publishers. There is no doubt that Louis is Gibraltar’s leading playwright, the year rightly ending with him receiving a Special Recognition Award at the latest Cultural Awards. Louis also featured in Literature Week as Gibraltar becomes increasingly aware of Louis’ incredible success, one that is set to continue, with him now working on a number of stage and television projects that will propel him even further. 

February was a busy month for Gibraltarian theatre-makers in London. Only a few weeks after Spaceship, my play The Blue Whale was performed at The Space, a theatre venue on the Isle of Dogs. Receiving four-star reviews and performing to packed houses over three nights, the production was the result of a close working relationship with The Space that has helped me develop significantly as a writer. This represented a big step and the culmination of a major aim. Further performances of my plays continued, with Ten Minutes at Medway Little Theatre (where it won Best Original Play at the Duncan Rand Festival) and three performances of The Amazing Angel-Man at the Kelvin Players Theatre in Bristol, where I was given the honour of carrying out a post-show Q&A. With performances of other plays in places like Nebraska and Georgia in the US, 2023 has been rather kind. 

Not to be outdone, the creative partnership of Hannah Mifsud and a pre-politics Christian Santos also had a remarkable year. Not only did their play Signed Me sweep the boards at the Gibraltar Drama Festival in March, it was also given the opportunity to be performed at the British National Drama Festival, held at The Albany Theatre in Coventry in July. The production won Most Outstanding Contribution Award and the Best Backstage Team, while the script itself came second in the prestigious Derek Jacobi Award for the Best Original Script. With two consecutive Best Plays to her name, Hannah has established herself as a key figure in local playwriting, her plays now a regular feature in the Drama Festival as well as in the Magazine Studio Theatre. This is very positive, especially as Christian’s new job may keep him away from playwriting for a few years... although, no doubt, his experiences as a minister will provide him with plenty of material for “un play de los suyos”. 

Within our shores, though, there has also been plenty of activity derived from the pens of local writers. Michael Prescott and Nathan Conroy presented their comedy The Ghost of Ince’s Hall in October, while Giselle Baker’s LOL Productions made a welcome return to the stage with their December production of Laughing All The Way. Already there are a number of original plays signed up for the next Drama Festival in March. This is reflecting a confidence in Gibraltarian playwrights who are benefiting from the experience of having their staged worked overseas while developing key relationships with others in the industry. Their work is increasingly challenging and engaging, tackling a wide range of difficult topics and fully deploying the tools offered by the stage. While it was unfortunate that no local playwrights were invited to form part of the Llanito Language symposium held at Cambridge University (and this is not the first such omission from such an event), and that playwriting is not represented in the National Book Council, it is nonetheless encouraging that the new body of the Arts Advisory Council recognises the importance and contribution of Gibraltarian playwriting. This strand of our literature has been developing steadily over a number of years and has taken a big leap this year. With a bit more support from the local community, it could have even further to go.