Sunday, 27 June 2010

"Translations", a threatre production by Brian Friel

My husband and I enjoy attending theatre performances by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School has an outstanding reputation for producing excellent actors and actresses in theatre, radio, TV and film. It is one of the most selective drama schools in the world as only 14 out of, apparently, around 2,500 applications are accepted each year! Successful applicants complete a 3-year BA acting course in cooperation with the University of the West of England (UWE).

Any of the plays, I find, is usually a must-see. Evenings out at the theatre are always special, also because what happens on the stage is in marked contrast to my own everyday work life. I am, in keeping with my personality, not usually required to rely on any vocal or physical abilities as translating requires a completely different skill set.

The act of translation – where languages clash – can be fraught with difficulties.

It was a foregone conclusion that finding out about an upcoming play actually entitled "Translations" had me eagerly anticipating the performance, which was put on at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. "Translations" is a three-act play by Irish playwright Brian Friel written in 1980. It is set in Baile Beag (Ballybeg), a small village at the heart of 19th century agricultural Ireland.

[It] is "a play about language and only about language", but it deals with a wide range of issues, stretching from language and communication to Irish history and cultural imperialism. (Source: Wikipedia). The British Army is preparing the first Ordnance Survey map of Ireland, which involves anglicising all Gaelic place names. New national schools are established to impose English as the national language. For this particular play the students, acting excellently as usual, had even been trained to reproduce the Irish accent

From a translator's or linguist's point of view, it was particularly intriguing to see how language was used as the central dramatic element in the play. It was used to expose typical communication problems where different languages – in this case Greek, Latin, Gaelic and English – are involved.

The play brought out very vividly how cultural or language barriers can seem insurmountable. The character of Owen, who acts as an interpreter in the play, demonstrated how the very act of translation – where languages clash – can be fraught with difficulties, and thereby present numerous challenges. It highlighted how important the capacity to communicate and to be understood is, and how its loss can result in conflicts with grave consequences.