Saturday, 1 October 2011

I Thought They'd Change Their Minds

I read about the plans for it months ago, but, until this week's confirmation that the Globe Theatre really is going to spend its next season performing all of Shakespeare's plays in languages other than English, I didn't completely believe it. Now that I realise it's really going to happen, I find it hard to escape the conclusion that the English have lost all commonsense.

The seasons kicks off, apparently, with Troilus and Cressida in Maori and continues with a Polish 'drugs-and-strippers' version of Macbeth, a performance of Cymbeline in Juba Arabic (a language spoken in South Sudan), a Comedy of Errors in Dari and on and on and on.

I have only one question: why?


  1. Fortunately, there are millions of Maoris in London who have been waiting all their lives to see T&C in their native tongue. I just hope the costuming reflects Maori dress, and that a decent haka precedes the event.

  2. Sitting weeping of an evening, they've all been, filled with a desperate, aching longing for the great moment to arrive, wondering whether they can survive long enough to be able to wake up on the great day when they can finally go to the Globe and see Troilus and Cressida in their own native tongue

  3. If the language is spoken in South Sudan, how many fluent in it are likely to be in easy traveling distance of the theatre and with the price of the tickets?

    I do see one advantage to this: the supertitles will be accurate and in proper English.

  4. There's nothing worse than a naked and superficial attempt at innovation -- like bands who dress up in silly, Gothic costumes and mention death a lot but who play the same three chords the Stones did. Next thing you know, the London Symphony will be performing Mozart on an Arabic scale.

  5. George, my husband had exactly the same reaction.
    Chris, funnily enough, classical music seems to be immune to trendiness, apart from a bit of posturing by Nigel Kennedy - and also more or less universally appealing

  6. At least it only last 6 weeks, apparantly; but I also notice on the Globe's website that they 'receive no funding and rely entirely on our generosity', which makes me wonder how many of their core audience - assuming they have one - are going to be feeling so generous after this. 37 plays mimed in 37 different styles of physical theatre might have had a vague point to it.

  7. I understand that as part of a cultural exchange the All Blacks will be replacing the haka with a Morris Dance for some of next season's matches.

  8. Oh come on Zoe! It's not the whole season, it's only 6 weeks in April and May. It's not the Globe's own company it's visiting companies from all over performing plays they have performed/are going to perform in their home countries.

    Sure, the language is going to be a barrier, more so than Shakespeare's language (but even that's a foreign language in its way). The actors will have to work that much harder than usual to communicate with their audience.

    Who will go to see the performances? I guess people who know the play already and who want the chance to sample acting from different cultures. Play freaks and theatre nerds and acting students of all ages. Tourists too - some by accident no doubt, but others by design. I'd certainly go if I was in London then.

    And what a fantastic opportunity for the actors, from the Sudan and Belarus and South Africa and elsewhere, to bring their version of Shakespeare and perform on a stage like the one the plays were originally written for.

    I think it's a brilliant initiative and I hope The Globe breaks even on it.

  9. I think their timing may be off...the Olympics will run later in the summer. That's when the people who will be able to understand Shakespeare in Swahili will be here.

  10. Gadjo - "At least it's only six weeks", as you say.
    Gaw - I really wish they would - that little gimmick has really got a bit tired, don't you think?
    John - For me, the wonder of Shakespeare is the language, and directors who understand this - for instance Jonathan Miller who directed the best Hamlet I've ever seen, at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol (barely any scenery and no showy costume, just deep, deep thought about the text itself) - do the works the greatest service. Why on earth deliberately put up barriers between the audience and the work? Even if you argue it is important to do so for reasons of diversity or something, (which I don't accept), I just cannot see how performing in translation improves anything. Translations are never equal to the original text - when I wanted to read Eugene Onegin, I learnt Russian, and I don't have a moment's doubt that it was the only way to understand how great Pushkin is. This plan to perform in obscure languages is all just silly, pointless fiddling, possibly with some agenda that has nothing to do with Shakespeare. But I suspect you might feel some kinship with the people I went to see the Kabuki Theatre in Melbourne with many years ago. As we spilled out onto the street after the performance, they all talked excitedly about how significant and rewarding the whole experience had been for them, how inspiring and meaningful et cetera et cetera. I'd been bored and mystified, but at least I didn't then feel embarrassed when the doorman pointed out that, since we'd got such a huge amount out of what we 'd seen so far, he felt it only his duty to inform us that the thing hadn't ended but was only just getting under way; this was but the first of many intervals, inserted between several more hours of the uplifting spectacle. By the end, even my most enthusiastic friends were beginning to look a bit like the audience at one of Harris's performances of comic songs in Three Men in a Boat.
    Nota - they may have other preoccupations though

  11. Theatre is the one art form that can encompass all other art forms - poetry, story-telling, song, sound and music, movement and dance, all the visual arts ... As a member of the audience you can choose only to see theatre which focuses on the spoken word, that's your prerogative. But why condemn the Globe for giving those of us who don't subscribe to your narrow strictures the opportunity to at least to try to appreciate a broader spectrum?

    As for translations never being equal to the original text it's true, but at the same time profoundly false. Every translation is a new interpretation, and the new version is a work of art in its own right. Do you really suppose that Shakespeare's work would have the universal appeal it does today if it had never been translated?

    Further, I'll hazard a guess that your memorable performance of Hamlet was itself an interpretation of the original language in a modern pronunciation. How do you feel about Original Pronunciation versions I wonder?
    See here (Paul Meier and David Crystal presenting an accessible OP Midsummer Night's Dream)
    And here (An OP reading of Sonnet 145)

  12. I have no idea why you want to see Shakespeare's plays performed in languages other than English, many of which you won't be able to understand. I'm sorry, John, I'm baffled by your enthusiasm. I do not believe that a performance of any of Shakespeare's plays in a language I don't understand is going to be useful at all to my understanding of anything, except perhaps tedium. Shakespeare was a very good writer. He wrote very good plays - matchless, even. Treasure that. It's enough.

  13. For my part, Zoe, I understand your feelings about Shakespeare's writings, even if I don't share them. What still baffles _me_ is your lack of acceptance towards people who don't share your perspective and your antipathy towards the Globe to Globe project. I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree and assign one another to that box labled "Perverse people I have virtually met".

    I see you have stopped following me on Twitter; I shall reciprocate.

  14. I'm sorry, John - I hadn't intentionally stopped following you; however, Twitter does seem to have a habit of unfollowing people on my behalf. But absolutely not a case of going off in high dudgeon.