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Reviewed by:
  • The Translator on Stage by Geraldine Brodie
  • Daniel Smith
The Translator on Stage. By Geraldine Brodie. Bloomsbury, 2018. Paper $26.95. xi + 195 pages.

Geraldine Brodie’s fascinating and accessible book bridges translation studies and theatre practice, examining the contributions of various artists to translated plays on the London stage. A significant goal of her project is “to interrogate the agency of the translator within the collaborative field of theatre translation” (7). Drawing her corpus from the 2005 London theatre season, Brodie examines eight productions with original texts from six European source languages: Ancient Greek, Danish, German, Norwegian, Russian, and Spanish. Brodie is interested in complicating narratives about the translator’s invisibility, especially in the context of theatre where a celebrity playwright without knowledge of the source language might be credited with a translation, adaptation, or version. The engaging introduction describes her method, informed by sociology and her previous experience as an accountant. Using Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, Brodie’s goal is to situate each translated play within a network of theatre companies and collaborators. Avery useful table gives a sense of the book’s scope, listing the study’s eight plays with author, translator, type of translation, literal translator (if applicable), producing theatre, and director (10). Brodie’s purpose is to understand and valorize the role of collaboration in theatre translation. She accomplishes this task by studying the conditions of production by theatre companies and the various agents involved in [End Page 127] collaboration, with a view to understanding multiple forces that shape translation for the stage.

In chapter 2, “London Theatre: Contexts of Performance,” Brodie analyzes the economic and cultural capital of the London theatre scene, examining the commonalities and differences among theatres that produced the plays in her sample. She identifies four significant factors linking companies that produced these new translations: Arts Council England funding; a focus on commissioning and new work; employment of someone tasked with literary management; and ties to the Society of London Theatres (SOLT). In addition to providing useful groundwork for Brodie’s arguments about the status of translation within the marketplace of theatre, this chapter will interest theatre educators as potentially effective reading to assign for study abroad programs in London. Brodie discusses budgets and programming styles of notable theatre companies including the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, the Almeida, and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). The chapter also includes a number of photographs of theatre buildings.

Chapter 3, “Eight Productions and Their Translation Teams,” delves into the collaborative process of theatre-making and the development of a translated text for production. Drawing on programs, reviews, archival records, and interviews with theatre artists, Brodie tracks the visibility of translation and networks of theatre collaboration for each of the eight productions she has identified. For instance, David Hare’s version of The House of Bernarda Alba is based on Simon Scardifield’s annotated translation from the Spanish. Scardifield’s translation was commissioned by the National Theatre for this particular production, and his extensive experience as an actor lends dramaturgical authority to the translation. Brodie understands Hare as the most visible agent in this translation process due partly to his status as a celebrity playwright, but perhaps more to his longstanding working relationship with the National. In another scenario, director Richard Eyre adapted Hedda Gabler from a translation by Karin and Ann Bamborough. Brodie contends that the creation of the English text by the same person who is directing the production shapes the process somewhat differently. A third instructive example is Tony Harrison’s version of Hecuba for the RSC. Harrison studied Greek, and no intermediary translator is listed. But this does not necessarily mean that he is the only agent of translation. By analyzing edits in the prompt book, Brodie suggests that Vanessa Redgrave exercised some amount of agency over the text she spoke as Hecuba. Brodie’s interviews with theatre practitioners continually reinforce the complexity of theatre collaboration and its impact on translated plays. Conflicting testimony suggests the difficulty of pinpointing how and when specific decisions were made. Though she is more interested in using this context to rehabilitate the celebrity translator within the field of translation...


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pp. 127-129
Launched on MUSE
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