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.
Translating Europe includes:
POKER FACE, by Petr Kolecko. Presented at the Kings Head Theatre in 2016, touring Europe in 2017
Prague, 2011. A family dinner escalates into a game of money, power and sex where nothing is what it seems. An inventive, creative, original production in which everyone and everything can turn into something unexpected.
Champion poker player Jana travels the world in style. She is rich, strong, and speaks in sarcastic one liners. She has a difficult relationship with her daughter Pavlína, who struggles to understand how, in 1989, Jana could have been a passionate revolutionary. She doesn’t know Jana is haunted by her past. By her father’s letters from Africa playing in her head. By the guilt for not being able to grieve at his death, so busy she was falling in love with leading dissidents. Pavlína is attracted by the idealism of Viktor, an ambitious young man who claims to be “fighting for his generation” via Twitter. On the eve of president Václav Havel’s funeral, when Jana returns from Tokyo to find Viktor and Pavlína making out in her apartment, an embarrassing family dinner turns into a dangerous game escalating first in sex, then in violence and, eventually, in farce. Is Pavlína president Havel’s daughter? What is Viktor really after? Is there still room for icons in our cynical world?
GENERATION ICONS: Rehearsed readings of Kill Hill ™’ by Villam Klimáček, iPlay by Bernard Studler and Poker Face by Petr Kolečko. RADA Studio 2013.
Genaration Icons is (http://www.theatre.cz/media/document/generation_icons_eng.pdf) a project promoting contemporary drama in Europe and exploring cultural identity and generational change. The main coordinator was Divadlo LETÍ, in Prague, and the co-organizers were GUnaGU Theatre, Bratislava, Slovakia Wiener Worstaetten, Vienna, Austria, the Arts and Theatre Institute, Prague, Czech Republic and the HaDivadlo Theatre Brno, Czech Republic. The project was based on the principle of blending three countries, three generations of authors, three original plays, three residences of directors and three productions all in a fully interconnected structure for a direct confrontation between individual nationalities, generations and cultural contexts. The three plays generated during the process, although different in form (ranging from the more traditional dramatic form to postdramatic theatre), all reflected the current social-political and economic environment. Poker Face and the Slovak ‘Kill Hill ™’ were about money and games (virtual reality for Klimáček and poker for Kolečko). Both plays deal with the loss of ideals and disillusionment which ensued the arrival of the capitalist and pragmatic social system after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. iPlay by Bernard Studler was a collage where poetry, humour, and politics blended. We were asked by Divadlo Leti to be their UK partner in the project and we presented the three texts as readings. Well, kind of, we don’t really do straightforward reading so we ended up shooting at each other, playing videogames and hiding under chairs…
THE RETURN (Il Ritorno) by Sergio Pierattini. World première in English produced by LegalAliens for Camden Fringe Festival 2012 and St James Theatre 2013
The Return (Il Ritorno), by Sergio Pierattini, is set in Bergamo and is a portrait of a family falling apart and of a society struggling to cope with change – social, political, cultural. It’s also the play that made us discover a new method of translation focused on the collaboration between translators and the cast. Set in a gritty part of Northern Italy characterised by a grave and thick accent that perfectly reflect the landscape, this play couldn’t be translated in a neutral English. We’re miles from sunny Tuscany and “melodic” Italian.
We could have set the play in Birmingham or and use a somehow “similar” British equivalent. But one of our reasons for producing “foreign” plays is to tell stories from different cultures and communities. Communities that, yes, have a lot in common with groups of people living in other parts of the world, but that are also very much their own thing.
THE INELUCTABILITY OF CHAOS, devised show inspired by THE OLD AND THE YOUNG by Pirandelllo and presented at the Bloomsbury Theatre in 2013
This devised piece explores the possibilities of translation and adaptation in contemporary theatre. For five days (the maximum free space and time we were able to extract in the current funding climate) an international group of performers gathered to explore these questions:
How does a text designed to break the form of a novel become a piece of theatre that challenges the assumptions of performance? How do we approach translation – from Italian, to English, to the body, and back?
How do we undertake such grand-scale work in an environment that compresses process and emphasizes product/performance?
Emerging from actors’ work physical and verbal scores and mining Italian political slogans and songs from the Garibaldi era, the resulting performance explores parents and children, corruption and capitalism, political aspiration and apathy with a physical vocabulary and vocal landscape that never resolves, but remains poised on the edge of control.
NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, by Maggie Rose. Produced by LegalAliens in 2010 and presented at the Soho Theatre studio and Italian Cultural Institute
Born as a verbatim play, in Italian, based on the stories of old women who had moved from Trentino (Northern Italy), to England and Scotland just before WW2, Neither here nor there was an attempt at devising a play that talked about immigration, politics, and foreigners being made scapegoats but without a contemporary setting.
We took the Italian version and turned it into a fictional play about an Italian family living in London before and during the war. In the late ’30s the residents of the Alpine regions of Italy were poor and malnourished and would often married by proxy to a distant friend who was already living abroad. In the play, Laura, is a young woman from Trentino who in 1936 is sent to London to be the wife of Giacomo, a second generation Italian running a fish and chips shop in the East End.When the war starts, Giacomo is arrested and placed on the infamous Arandora Star, a ship that sank in the Atlantic with its load of 470 Italian prisoners. Laura, and her sister and mother in law are left alone, fending for themselves in a city that is turning towards Italians on the slogan “collar the lot”.
If you’re interested in seeing in one of the plays, in inviting us to a festival, or if you’re a playwright based outside the UK and would like us to consider your play, please get in touch