25 April 2014
Bemused by Translations at the Rose Theatre
When the new season at the Rose Theatre was announced I bought tickets for four shows but not for Translations. Then I saw the ratings from previous performances on their tour and jumped in then.
Being a little late to the game meant that I was in one of the side blocks but I was still just early enough to get a seat in the first proper row (A13).
The stage was built out for Translations, as it was originally designed to do, and that meant that the Pit (where you sit on the floor and have to bring your own cushion) was severely curtailed and I only had the three rows of Pit Seated in front of and below me. I like the stage arranged like that and I would like to see the Rose do it more often.
They are helped in this by one of the villagers who had left a few years previously and made some money in the city. He acted as translator and also helped the English to understand the meanings behind the Gaelic names so that proper English equivalents could be determined.
A girl in the village falls in love with one of their soldiers despite neither of them knowing more than a word or two of each other's language.
Then something unexpected happens and it all turns nasty.
The main theme of Translations was, obviously, the clash in cultures epitomised by the different languages. This was the soft colonisation of Ireland. It seemed to be a simple point of which not much was made and the play ended on an uncertain note. There was a noticeable pause after the lights went out before the applause started.
There were lots of funny scenes in the play, such as when the girl and the soldier were talking to each other and saying much the same things but without knowing it because of the language difference. We in the audience could tell what the girl was saying as she was actually talking in English for our benefit, we just knew that she was really speaking in Gaelic.
The device of having all the Gaelic spoken in English worked well and as each character was either Irish or English (only one of them knew both languages) it was obvious to us which language was being spoken.
There was a small cast of characters around the couple. In the village there was an elderly school master, his lame son, his friend and several of his students. It was an interesting bunch of people but it was not clear what their roles were. The dumb girl gave us another perspective on language but, again, it was a simple point simply made.
The school master, his friend and his son were lovers of the classics and so we heard a lot of Homer and Virgil etc. I am note sure what the point of this was. It could have been an excuse to show the ancient origins of some modern words but that seemed like a lot of effort to make a minor point.
I left bemused. I had enjoyed a lot of the scenes but the story did not really go anywhere or end, and I did not feel particularly interested in any of the characters to care about them. It felt like a draft of an unfinished play.
I am sure that the critics who gave it five stars knew what they were talking about and they almost certainly saw more in the play than I did but clever plays still need to be accessible on first watching and I struggled to find any point or meaning to Translations.