Translations: A lesson in acting all actors must see
Updated: Jul 1, 2018
I try to go to the theatre as much as I can - to see West End hits that have been recommended to me, to more unconventional and varied work. I love going to see a show and I honestly think that if you want to be an actor, you have to see as many things as you can. You can learn so much from watching a performance - it can inspire you, it can give you ideas, it can show you what works and what doesn’t, it can make you leave remembering why you want to enter this world of acting in the first place! Whatever you’re feeling or thinking - whether you’re stuck in a rut or know exactly what you want - it’s an opportunity to find out more about the world and people and the work that excites you the most. So, my trip to The National to see ‘Translations’ on a Friday night was something I was really excited for! I also got an Entry Pass ticket which I would really recommend people sign up for - it was only £7.50!
‘Translations’ has been praised as the most successful and triumphant play of playwright Brian Friel’s career. Now, for just over a two months, director Ian Rickson is reviving the masterpiece on the Olivier Stage at The National Theatre. The cast includes powerhouse names Ciaran Hinds and Colin Morgan alongside a talented Irish cast, creating a strong ensemble that brings this story to life.
The play itself is set in the rural town of Donegal, in Ireland. It follows the return of prodigal son Owen, son of school master Hinds, who, after six years of being away in Dublin, comes back to his home. However, Owen does not come back alone - he brings with him two British army officers. Acting as a translator between the Irish and English, he helps the officers create a map of the area where they work to replace all the Gaelic names with English equivalents. What unfolds throughout the production is a powerfully relevant discussion on the power of language and its ties to identity and culture. The actions of the British soldiers affect everyone in the town, and it highlights this constant struggle between the old and new, rural and urban, progression or colonisation. Some of the characters are desperate to be taught the opposing language, most notably Moira who can’t communicate with gentle British soldier George. However, there are other characters such as Hinds who rebuke this notion. Throughout the play we see the tension mount between those wanting to embrace change and those who are resisting.
This power of language and its representation in the play is characterised perhaps most potently by Sarah. As a young student with an unrequited love for her teacher, her primary struggle in the play is her inability to speak at all. The production opens with Sarah being taught to say, ‘My name is Sarah’, and this line consistently resurfaces throughout. Her struggle to say her own name emphasizes to the audience the play’s message that one’s identity is ultimately tied with language and to corrupt that in some form can have powerful, devastating effects.
The actors do an incredible job of keeping the energy and the tension high throughout the play as well as interjecting moments of humour to add some lightness amongst the shade. The Olivier Stage lends itself to the production, with the focus of the set being on Hind’s house-turned-school. The space is stripped back so that the square of wooden flooring and knocked down bricks for walls emphasizes the basic, rural nature of their town. The most powerful part of the set however is the sweeping mounds of mud and grass that encompass the rest of the huge staging space. The muddy backdrop is what the characters clamber over when they each come from their individual homes in the town. The ambience of this setting is heightened by the lighting - the amber backdrop darkens the muddy land so that when the characters enter or leave, they are merely silhouettes lit from the back, aiding the ominous presence of the British.
Ultimately, Rickson’s production powerfully explores this violation of culture and language by asking the audience, ‘does language form your identity?’ To me, the play would suggest so and with the untouched, rural staging, the arrival of the English seems more like an aggressive invasion rather than progressive change. I would definitely recommend you take the time to watch this powerful revival.
After studying English Literature and Theatre at the University of Leeds and becoming an active member of the university’s Theatre Group, Sophia realised acting was the right path for her. After living in France for a year to feed her love for travelling and tutoring, she’s now back in London to follow the actor/blogger dream. She loves exploring all things ‘drama’ and hopes to one day be in productions that can give a powerful voice to important issues and delve into challenging roles. She is currently studying at The Actors Temple on The Foundation Course and is a keen blogger busy travelling around interviewing alumni, trying out new classes, reviewing the latest shows and ultimately exploring this world of ‘acting’!