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#1 Jan Brock

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Posted 27 March 2007 - 02:25 PM

I wonder why directors (in the subsidised sector) seem to insist on commissioning new versions of classic plays when they stage them ? An example is the current John Gabriel Borkman (Donmar) "in a version by David Eldridge" which seems to me to be little different in quality to the last NT production of the play only ten years ago "in a version by Nicholas Wright". As neither speak Norwegian (I assume) I can't really see the point of a new version each time - the language is not going to date in ten years. Another example is the recent NT Seagull "adapted by Martin Crimp" - why not just use the Michael Frayn version, which is as least as good (better, in my view) ? It must provide some nice extra income for these playwrights (Christopher Hampton is another who benefits) but beyond that it seems like a waste of money.

#2 Job

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 07:56 AM

I've thought the same thing for many years. It's my belief that only directorial vanity prevents companies from dusting off pre-existing translations - which would surely be less costly than commissioning new ones. The argument voiced to me by a director when I raised the same point at a post-show Q&A some years ago was that 'translations date' and that they 'need to reflect the lexis of the day'. That may be true of some forty-year-old version of, say, The Seagull, but it makes no sense at all when such a play has been retranslated so many times in the past ten years alone.

Job
With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.

#3 Orchestrator

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 08:56 AM

QUOTE(Job @ Mar 28 2007, 08:56 AM) View Post
I've thought the same thing for many years. It's my belief that only directorial vanity prevents companies from dusting off pre-existing translations - which would surely be less costly than commissioning new ones. The argument voiced to me by a director when I raised the same point at a post-show Q&A some years ago was that 'translations date' and that they 'need to reflect the lexis of the day'. That may be true of some forty-year-old version of, say, The Seagull, but it makes no sense at all when such a play has been retranslated so many times in the past ten years alone.

My instinct is to agree, but perhaps there is more than vanity involved. Translation is fundamentally impossible; how, for example, do you translate the film title "All The President's Men"? It is not sufficient to say "Tous les Hommes du Président" as that conveys none of the resonance of All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again. So every translation falls short in one or more areas and inevitably projects the personality of the translator. So it is important that a director is in sympathy with the translation; commissioning someone he/she knows and admires is akin to choosing a designer.
Ooh, that Bernadette Shaw - what a chatterbox!

#4 Jan Brock

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 11:17 AM

QUOTE(Orchestrator @ Mar 28 2007, 09:56 AM) View Post
My instinct is to agree, but perhaps there is more than vanity involved. Translation is fundamentally impossible; how, for example, do you translate the film title "All The President's Men"? It is not sufficient to say "Tous les Hommes du Président" as that conveys none of the resonance of All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again. So every translation falls short in one or more areas and inevitably projects the personality of the translator. So it is important that a director is in sympathy with the translation; commissioning someone he/she knows and admires is akin to choosing a designer.


The issue is not about translation - I would agree that if the play is retranslated each time it might have value - but I would be willing to bet that Martin Crimp (to use one example) does not speak Russian. So his starting point must be a pre-existing English translation - and not even a new one at that (as there was no credit given for the person who did the "literal translation" from which he worked, which is the normal formulation when that is new too). I suppose he just had a hack at an old out-of-copyright English version - so updating the language was needed.

The situation (updating an existing old English text) is actually more like staging "St. Joan by George Bernard Shaw, adapted by Martin Crimp" which would seem like a very odd thing to do.

David Eldrige used to post to the old discussion boards here - maybe he could defend the practice.

(Incidentally, I think the reason I find the Frayn Chekov versions so good is that he DOES actually do the translation too).


#5 smith

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 11:36 AM

QUOTE(Jan Brock @ Mar 28 2007, 12:17 PM) View Post
The issue is not about translation - I would agree that if the play is retranslated each time it might have value - but I would be willing to bet that Martin Crimp (to use one example) does not speak Russian. So his starting point must be a pre-existing English translation - and not even a new one at that (as there was no credit given for the person who did the "literal translation" from which he worked, which is the normal formulation when that is new too). I suppose he just had a hack at an old out-of-copyright English version - so updating the language was needed.

The situation (updating an existing old English text) is actually more like staging "St. Joan by George Bernard Shaw, adapted by Martin Crimp" which would seem like a very odd thing to do.

David Eldrige used to post to the old discussion boards here - maybe he could defend the practice.

(Incidentally, I think the reason I find the Frayn Chekov versions so good is that he DOES actually do the translation too).




I think I remember reading in the programme for The Seagull (NT) that Crimp doesn't speak a word of Russian - and it truly was an awful version. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think lines like "Oh for God's sake, just piss off" really belong in Chekhov.

Apparently Christopher Hampton has very limited Russian so his recent version at the Court was based on someone else's translation - did anyone see it and think it was good/bad/somewhere in between?

#6 Jan Brock

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 12:10 PM

QUOTE(smith @ Mar 28 2007, 12:36 PM) View Post
I think I remember reading in the programme for The Seagull (NT) that Crimp doesn't speak a word of Russian - and it truly was an awful version. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think lines like "Oh for God's sake, just piss off" really belong in Chekhov.

Apparently Christopher Hampton has very limited Russian so his recent version at the Court was based on someone else's translation - did anyone see it and think it was good/bad/somewhere in between?


Indeed. Odd of Crimp to put a phrase like that in when the play was set in 1930 (according to me) or pre-revolutionary Russia (according to the director). Does anyone know which version Trevor Nunn is using for the RSC ?

The play I tend to monitor for version quality "Three Sisters" - I can point to specific places where Frayn's version is simply better than the others that get used in terms of modern English speech (I can't comment on the quality of the translation though).

#7 Theatresquirrel

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 12:33 PM

More cheerful denigration of theatre that doesn’t play by Jan Brock’s rules.

Orchestrator makes the most valid point here, although Jan wants to overlook it. The legitimacy of different ‘versions’ (whether the adaptor sat hunched over Ibsen’s very own autograph manuscript or not) is that they attempt to excavate different implicit resonances in the play. I’m bored to death of people slagging off Martin Crimp’s version of The Seagull because it simply wasn’t ‘their’ version of The Seagull, i.e. The Seagull they know simply through other folks’ versions.

Big deal.

Crimp made a very cogent, legit case for a household in thrall to its matriarch’s tyranny; previous translators and adaptors haven’t gone down that route quite so distinctly but who’s to say it’s not there in the original Chekhov? Even not necessarily in the words? A play is more than what’s written on the page.

And Jan, get over yourself, commending David Eldridge to come out and 'defend' himself. What do you think this messageboard is, the Crown Court? The House of Commons? Don’t forget that however vocal and opinionated we choose to be on this site, it doesn’t make us the chief arbiters of theatre. David Eldridge and fellow writers have absolutely nothing to defend, especially not to a bunch of faceless folks on this site.

#8 Edagar

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Posted 28 March 2007 - 12:59 PM

The commissioning of a literal for a writer to work from is common practice.

More often than not, a director will request a translation which fits in with their working practice.  Pre-existing translations, particularly modern ones, will have right to pay on them, so most commission their own.  Royalties can be enormous these days, often more than a new commission.

#9 Jan Brock

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 06:23 AM

QUOTE(Theatresquirrel @ Mar 28 2007, 01:33 PM) View Post
More cheerful denigration of theatre that doesn’t play by Jan Brock’s rules.


Ah. I knew I shouldn't have chosen M.Crimp as an example - the Mitchellistas have hijacked the argument.

"Get over yourself" joins the list of Americanisms that have been used against me on this site - "Get a life" and "Whatever" being the more frequent - I blame the TV show "Friends" - I feel a new English version of the site should be commissioned as soon as possible.

Edagar: Interesting point, I am surprised the cost of royalties can be higher than a new commission.

#10 Orchestrator

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Posted 29 March 2007 - 09:51 AM

QUOTE(Jan Brock @ Mar 29 2007, 07:23 AM) View Post
Edagar: Interesting point, I am surprised the cost of royalties can be higher than a new commission.

I'm not surprised. I'd imagine that the new commission fee could include, say, 2 months of performance royalties particularly in the subsidised sector. The translator/versionifier would be doing it on a speculate-to-accumulate principle.
Ooh, that Bernadette Shaw - what a chatterbox!




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