- Anglo-German Theatrical Exchange: "A Sea-Change into Something Rich and Strange?" ed. by Rudolf Weiss, Ludwig Schnauder, and Dieter Fuchs
The title of this volume addresses a dynamic dialogue between two distinct theatre cultures, and the tome's sixteen essays cover material from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. The blurb on the back-cover, written, presumably, by the editors, calls the collection a "seminal contribution to an under-researched field at the intersection of literary and cultural criticism, comparative literature, and theatre as well as translation studies." The text's authors do not, however, appear to acknowledge that it is their readers who make such judgements and that only time will tell just how influential the essays might be.
The essays all appear in English, something that signals an appeal to a wider audience, given the fact that German is the majority of the contributors' first language. Yet this decision is not unproblematic. First, there is no uniform policy on the treatment of German material itself. Some contributors provide translations into English throughout, others only retain the German original, and one, for reasons that are not at all clear, alternates between putting the original in the main text with a translation in a footnote and vice versa. Second, the result of translating essays into English by authors whose mother tongue is German is often messy. While translator Michael Raab offers flowing English prose, most of the other Germanophone essays are creaky and inelegant. Taking Norbert Bachleitner's essay on the censorship of English plays in Vienna as a representative example, one finds numerous Germanisms in the translations ("scientific books" (22) instead of "academic books;" the invented "apocryphic" (23) for "apocryphal"), Germanisms in textual practice (the use of the period after ordinals, in this collection particularly in the rendition of [End Page 340] regnal numbers), mistranslations ("police court department" for "Polizeihofstelle" (20) when 'court' is ambiguous in the sense of an aristocratic versus a legal institution) and the un-English use of prepositions ("having a child from her" (26)). In addition, one finds lengthy sentences that are not unusual in German because, as an inflected language, its structures make clear sense. In English, however, the lines can become clunky and confusing. As such, many of the essays are not the easiest of reads and can sometimes irk due to the lack of care taken in the editing process. That the three-man editorial team did not seek input from a native English speaker is hard to fathom.
The essays are certainly varied in terms of both their subject matter and their quality. The strongest are marked by clarity of argument, nuanced movement from the particular to the general, and strong scholarly practice with respect to primary and secondary material. All the following essays satisfy these criteria: Beatrix Hesse on Michael Frayn's treatment of Max Reinhardt in Afterlife; Christoph Houswitschka on the reception of German drama in Britain around the French Revolution; Margarete Rubik on a popular adaption of Jane Eyre in nineteenth-century Vienna; Ludwig Schnauder on director Peter Zadek's negotiation of Jewish characters at Vienna's Burgtheater; and W.E. Yates's study of adaptions of a play by Nestroy. Others, that are strong in parts, do not quite hit their marks uniformly. John Bull's essay on the impact of the Berliner Ensemble's residence in London in 1956, for example, certainly demonstrates a palpable effect on certain aspects of London theatre, but it is difficult to see how he reaches the conclusion that the encounter 'can be confidently argued to "have changed everything"' (63). It is also odd that Bull talks about the allegedly major effects of Look Back in Anger (1956) in terms of a book published in 1962 while ignoring Dan Rebellato's more measured revision of the phenomenon in his 1999 monograph 1956 and All That. (However, in a different bibliographical league altogether, another contributor cites seven separate Wikipedia articles in his essay.) There is also...