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Translation in the Theatre II: Translation as Adaptation

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Summary

Mark Batty You've done a great deal of work in the theatre that has involved intricate reworking of texts. You have worked in collaboration with Inga-Stina Ewbank on a number of Ibsen's plays, for example. How do you see the work you have done on adapting and translating texts in relation to your primary role as a director? Are these activities extensions of that role or separate interests?

John Barton What is adaptation and what is translation? The categories seem to me very blurred, and I wonder if this may not be Inga-Stina's view also when looking at particularly knotty plays. She has worked with me probably as much as with Peter Hall, though often on very different material. I have always found her sense of theatre as strong as her literary and scholarly side, and I, too, honour her for her collaborative work in preparing translations and in the rehearsal room, which is still something too rare among many academics. I agree with and respect Peter's position, and I, too, believe that directing itself is an act of translation, and that any production is going to be a directorial adaptation anyway. I know that much of such adaptation is bad and can pervert the author, and I have occasionally fallen into that trap. But I believe that what I've done has often also helped to make the author's intention, not mine, work better in the theatre. So if you ask me to talk in general terms about adaptation and translation, I can only answer in terms of the different kinds of adaptation and translation I have done, and the motives behind particular attempts, which are hardly ever the same.

MB I'd be interested, first, to discuss with you the impulses that lead you into adaptation. Do you go about putting together texts to create an adaptation as a kind of frustrated writer? Or, is it more from the point of view of a director who has an acute awareness of what works and who wants to improve a play, to allow it to follow its own line?

JB I think both, without doubt both. I'm not sure I know what kind of beast I am. I direct, I adapt, I translate, I do versions and also translations, though I don't know foreign languages.

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Translating Life
Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics
, pp. 397 - 412
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2000

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