Contemporary Drama

Tuesday 28 January 2014

5-7 pm

Arts & Humanities Common Room - Foster Court G24

This seminar considers theatre translation and contemporary drama, with papers focusing upon, amongst other things, the work of Wilhelm Genazino, Dario Fo and Sarah Kane. Speakers include UCL's Tom Wilks, Marta Niccolai, and Emma Cole. The seminar also features David Johnston of Queen's University Belfast as a guest speaker.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

5-7 pm

Wilkins Garden Room

The associated workshop will be led by Richard Twyman, International Associate, Royal Court Theatre, and professional actors, and is run in partnership with the Gate Theatre, London. 


Wilhelm Genazino's 'Lieber Gott mach mich blind' and the proportions of translation

Tom Wilks

My contribution will address the challenges of translating proportions in Genazino's first performed (2005) and published (2006) stage play. How should the translator convey the connotations signified in German of the five characters' body sizes? How can a non-German audience appreciate the scale of the German living-room setting and the shapes presented or distorted of everyday German life as proportions of a drama that is part-comedy, part-absurd and part-conversation piece? By positioning 'Lieber Gott mach mich blind' in the contemporary German theatrescape and in its author's œuvre – of which a much larger proportion deals with similar themes in prose fiction and radio plays, which pose comparable English translation challenges – I will assess how a text's translation and its stage adaptation both take on new dimensions in anticipation of the audience's shape and size.

Paralinguistic translation in contemporary drama: Sarah Kane’s 'Phaedra’s Love'

Emma Cole

Experimental adaptations of canonical plays are regularly seen in contemporary theatre, often verging into site-specific, durational, and immersive mediums. The work of ‘in-yer-face’ playwright and director Sarah Kane frequently falls into this category with, for example, Kane directing Büchner’s 'Woyzeck' and her own version of Seneca’s 'Phaedra', 'Phaedra’s Love', at the Gate Theatre in 1997 and 1996 respectively. In this paper I focus on 'Phaedra’s Love' and explore how Kane translated Seneca’s script both linguistically and paralinguistically, in order to recall and rework the Senecan text alongside the original performance context and the subsequent reception history of the play. I demonstrate how this creates a particularly complex dialogue between the two plays and layers the potential meanings inherent within the new work. I argue that exploring the paralinguistic ways in which adaptations translate canonical texts opens up an important dialogue about translation in experimental theatre, giving us a framework through which we can more successfully consider what the work of Kane and later theatrical innovators can tell us about the act of translation and the source texts they rework.

Translating Dario Fo in the UK. The complexity of the political laughter.

Marta Niccolai

This paper will look at the relationship between comedy and politics in Accidental Death of an Anarchist and how both areas had to be adapted in order to fit into the British theatrical system. When the play was translated in English, Dario Fo complained that key pieces of political importance had been cut, making the work more comical and less political. In my presentation I will look at Richard Gavin’s translation/adaptation of Fo’s play in 1980, considering its evolution into a new space where there are not just losses.

Collaborative Acts: The Translator in the Theatre

David Johnston

All translators work within systems of production and reception. This paper discusses the sorts of contribution, not always uncontested, that the translator and the translated text can make to the processes of programming, rehearsing and staging plays.

Contemporary Drama Workshop

Richard Twyman

In this workshop Richard Twyman, along with two professional actors, will workshop a scene from Bosco Israel Cayo Alvarez's Negra, la enfermera del General, a play that explores the violence of the Pinochet regime and its legacy on modern-day Chile.

This is a play that was developed during a project The Royal Court ran in Chile in 2012/13. It was performed as a staged reading at the Royal Court in September 2013.

Richard will lead an open rehearsal of this text to demonstrate how industry professionals work in the rehearsal room on texts in translation. The translator, William Gregory, will also be present to discuss his process and the decisions he made in the translation of this text. 

William, Richard, and the actors will also hold a discussion about how they develop work with International playwrights and translators, from the initial concept to producing that work at the Royal Court. 


Marta Niccolai has a PhD on Intercultural Narratives in Italophone Literature. In 2004 she produced the play, And the City Spoke, on the theme of migrants’ identity and the city. The event was funded by The British Council and performed in London, Ferrara and Warsaw. She is currently Teaching Fellow at UCL where she teaches Political Theatre and Political Cinema, and she is writing a book on contemporary intercultural theatre in Italy.

David Johnston lives and works in Belfast, where he teaches translation studies at Queen’s University. He is a multi-award-winning translator from Spanish, French and Portuguese, whose work has been performed around the English-speaking world. He has written translations of classical plays by Lope de Vega, Calderón, Moreto, Quirós, Gil Vicente and Molière, and modern writers such as Valle-Inclán, Lorca, Buero Vallejo, Vargas Llosa, Chías and Mayorga. These translations have been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court, Communicado Theatre Company, the Gate Theatre, the Belgrade Theatre, the Washington Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Lyric Belfast, and the BBC, among others.

Richard Twyman is International Associate at the Royal Court, where he recently directed The Djinns of Eidgah by Abhishek Majumdar in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. Other credits at the Royal Court include PIIGS for Open Court. He has worked extensively at the RSC, including on The Histories Cycle which won Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Ensemble and Best Revival and the Evening Standard Editor's Choice Award, and for which he directed Henry IV Part II. His other credits include The Djinns of Eidgah for Rage Theatre in Mumbai, Ditch at the Old Vic Tunnels/High Tide, Dr Marigold and Mr Chops at Bath Theatre Royal, Sixty-Six Books at the Bush Theatre and Give Me Your Hand (nominated for the Drama Desk Award 2012 for Outstanding Theatrical Experience), at the Irish Rep, New York.