An interview with Conall Morrison, Director of Translations at the Abbey Theatre
Interview by: Caomhan Keane
There's an old saying, "Quality never goes out of style". It can be said of brightly wrapped chocolates and it can certainly be said of theatre. The Abbey, hot off the phenomenal success of Pygmalion, is having a remarkably stylish season and have a sure fire hit on their hands with Translations, a masterpiece of modern Irish drama last staged at the turn of the century. Directed by Conall Morrison, who was behind the all male The Importance of Being Earnest, it's an investigation of the power, the politics and the potency of language.
"I've been wanting to get my hands on this for years," Morrison tells me a few hours before the show opens. "I saw the first production when I was 14, and this sounds like a sob story, it really turned me onto theatre. The cast included Ray McNally, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea and I have such a strong, entrenched memory of its humor and its romance and its charm and how alive it was theatrically. I'm tickled pink to have my hands on it. Ambition fulfilled."
Translations was written during the height of the troubles, when relations between England and Ireland were fraught. 31 years later, what can be gleamed from the script that might not have been applicable then? "Some resonances are perennial," he says. They are to do with language and translation and the fact that every linguistic act is an act of translation. What you think you said is not necessarily what someone else heard. It's about the glories of language, the colours of language and what a supremely human achievement it is, but also how flawed and fallible. For all its intricacies language is a very blunt instrument."
"While we were rehearsing, The Queen visited and the historical charge of language came into focus. Not just the Queen with her 'cupla focal', but also Britain talking to Ireland and all the body language that involved. Who bowed to whom and who shook whose hand. Everyone was looking at what the Queen said, what Gerry said. The politically charged element of language was suddenly in the spotlight."
All the characters speak in English but some are actually speaking in Irish, Latin or Greek. How did he and the cast work it so that the language barrier was clear to the audience? "You have to be very, very rigorous. Especially if you are going to fully exploit the humour of it. You have to play it like you have no idea what the person said, so that you can't even answer them with a tonal connection as if you heard it. In the famous love scene between Máire and the soldier I had the actors speak in Irish and French just to freshen up their vivid awareness of what it is to be listening to a language that you don't understand. Or to reach across in a language that the person you are speaking to can't understand."
Speaking in those days, Sarah Keating of the Irish Times said that the original production was a "vehicle for reimagining Ireland’s identity". Does Morrison think that that still rings true? "I do in that what it doesn't do is give you any answers. It possesses an awful lot of questions and it dismantles a lot of images and offers up contradictions and ironies. Its main achievement though is that after its technique, ironies and debate it leaves you with a lot more questions that it does answers."
Translations opened last night and runs till Saturday, 13 August 2011
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Thursday 30th June 2011 | Theatre
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