OUR SHOWS: Translating Europe

When we first started our journey, we had no idea Europe would be at the centre of such a heated debate in the UK. We were a group of European artists and it came natural to us to start our journey talking about places we knew. But recent events have made our work feel urgent.  We believe theatre can be essential in fighting tides of nationalism and isolationism, The plays we produce were written in Europe but are as universal as the human experience.

We want to demystify “European” theatre, getting rid of that label of intellectualism it is often associated with. Our shows are thought provoking and clever but also entertaining, moving, accessible. Stories are stories, no matter where they come from.

Finally, we want to stress that European theatre doesn’t mean “white theatre”. Europe is multicultural. Our actors might hold a European passport but are from all ethnic backgrounds.

Our Translating Europe series is dedicated to bringing European theatre to the UK through original translations that don’t “domesticate” the text but re-create its specificity. If there’s any point in translating theatre, it’s to offer audiences the chance to immerse themselves into a different world.

We have pushed the boundaries of theatre in translation with a unique method based on physicalisation and collaboration.

In theatre language is physicality. Words occupy time and space, their intonation and rhythm as important as their literal meaning. Translating for stage isn’t just finding the right words but the right way to contextualise them. Too often literary approaches to theatre translations impose a “domestic” frame on the original, distorting it into a different, “more familiar” text all together – a very colonial attitude in our opinion. Alternatively, they stick to its letter to the point of becoming obscure.

Collaborative practices are been advocated by many theatre practitioners championing a different approach. LegalAliens takes the idea further. Not only our translators don’t work on their own but directly with actors and director in the rehearsal room. We see translation as a form of dramaturgy that begins and ends with a production, as ephemeral as theatre itself. By mixing a traditional textual method with a physical, multi-media approach, we see translations as a “score” in which several elements, not just words but music, images, videos and movement interact to recreate the world of the original, which always finds the way to resurface, through songs, through idiomatic expressions left in the original language, through a movement linked to the culture the plays portrays, through images projected on the wall.

In rehearsals we listen to our translators reading the original text, and spend time understanding in which part of the body the language is created. We listen to songs, learn them, dance to them. We watch films set in the country the plays comes from, mimic actors’ physicality, learn how to pronounce names of people and places. So when they pop up in the English text they immediately ground the cast in the world of the original and remind the audience of where we are. We go through the text, scene by scene, line by line, forensically working at each line adjusting it as we progressively unveil its secrets. And when we can’t find the right way to translate a word, we leave it as it is. Traces of the original language are found all the time, like small clues.