(2013) Visiting director, John Turnbull, speaks with NWTC member, Julie Fraser, about Translations by Brian Friel which he put on in Luxembourg in November 2013 with NWTC.
1. How did it come about that you (an Englishman from Kent) are directing an Irish play in Luxembourg?!
Good question and one which has a simple answer! I have wanted to put this play on for a long time. However, in the London area there are copyright reasons why this cannot be done at present. It was therefore a delight that NWTC invited me to do it in Luxembourg and I readily accepted.
2. Arriving for a six-week run in a new country to put on a play is quite ambitious! Have there been any particular challenges you have had to overcome?
Every society has a different way of working and finding out those differences has been a pleasant learning curve. Even in Luxembourg, where so many are multilingual, not all are familiar with one of the unique challenges which Translations has; namely that it involves four different languages: Latin Greek, Irish and English. It has been a privilege for me to work with a largely Irish cast and I have learned a lot about the Irish language, culture and history. In particular, cast member Seanán Ó Coistín has been our language coach and kept us right on the Irish place names and pronunciations!
3. When and where did you first encounter Translations and what was the driving force in your decision to direct it?
I first came across Translations at Summer School (now known as LEATSS) more than twenty years ago. Antony Cornish, who was the Director of the School, used the opening scene as an acting exercise. I was so taken with it I asked him if I could borrow his copy to read the whole play (and I confess that I never returned it!).
At that time, the troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height: it was before the Peace Process was even developed. I found the script to be marvellously funny, touching and thought-provoking. The characters and story are fictional and Friel treats all with wry humour. It struck me as quite a poignant piece about nationalism and colonisation, but one which took a philosophical approach rather than a polemic political one. It made me consider the historical events it described in the light of contemporary ones.
4. The author, Brian Friel, has said that the play is “a play about language and only about language.” Can you expand on this and have you found other issues as you work through the play?
Diarmuid O'Leary, the Irish Ambassador to Luxembourg, also reflected on this recently and noted that it is indeed about much more: communication or miscommunication, doomed love, language as a national source, countries’ experience of colonialism and how that history has shaped what is to come. I agree. The use of language goes to the heart of so many facets of any society.
5. Are there particular aspects of the play that you think will resonate with audiences in Luxembourg?
I think the play will resonate on many levels, but particularly in relation to the use of language. One of the characters in the play exclaims, “I’m a barbarian in this place because I’m not understood by anyone!” and I wonder how many people feel this in foreign countries? As a more or less monolingual Englishman travelling to Luxembourg it strikes me as quite unusual that I find myself in a country where being fluent in four or five languages is quite common-place. Even so, “Luxembourg” is not the indigenous name of the country. In the capital, the main language is French, not the indigenous language. Streets, towns and villages have names in two languages and yet which comes first? I am curious to know whether Luxembourg feels as though it has been colonised linguistically. Just as it is the case in Translations, Luxembourg has had an invasion of one culture or another and the use of language is also very pertinent to the life here.
6. Lastly, you have attended NWTC’s Summer School for many years. Has it (and if so how) influenced you in your approach to directing and acting?
I can honestly say that nearly everything I know about directing (and acting) I have learned from attending summer school and of course from doing many plays over the years. I have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some wonderful mentors: Antony Cornish, Mike McCormack and Janice Dunn to name but a few.
Thanks and break a leg!
Translations runs from Saturday, 9th November until Saturday, 16th November , 2013 at the Check Inn, Findel, L-2632. Tickets available at www.nwtc.lu or call 356 339. Adults: EUR 18, Members: EUR 15, Students: EUR 12.