Brian Friel’s Translations sees a small Irish town put upon by British soldiers who are there to create a new map of the area with anglicized names. Former resident of the town, Owen, has been hired by the Bristish to act as translator and facilitator for the job, putting him right in the middle of the ensuing conflict.
If you’re still not sure if you should see it, check out exclusive preview and photo gallery of Translations.
And for those of you who like reading actual words now and again, here’s the script in print form:
Brian Friel’s play, Translations, is the story of a small Irish Parish in the 19th century which is on the brink of a cultural invasion and assimilation on two fronts. One with the upcoming opening of a national school that will offer free education to everybody, but only in the King’s English. Two, the arrival of British redcoats whose job is to map the countryside and effectively anglicise the place names. The script is both funny and tragic and the world premiere of Translations starred the amazing Liam Nissan, Stephen Rea and Mick Lally.
I enjoyed Ottawa Little Theatre’s presentation of Translations for the most part. I’ve read the script and think it’s hilarious. The problem was the direction. There’s a three-act, four-scene breakdown to the play, and the pacing in the first act was way off. There’s a lot going on here between setting up the world and the coming storm and introducing ten characters each with their individual quirks – and it all came across rather rushed. There’s little time spared for the jokes to come across or the information being given to audiences to settle.
Fortunately, several of the actors, namely Jack Allan Meltzer, Dan Baran, and Lawrence Aronovitch, do excellent work and manage to carry the play forward. It’s through Aronovitch’s Owen specifically that the conflict of Translations is really felt. Owen is translator and facilitator for the British soldiers as well as himself a resident of the Irish town, meaning his loyalties are being constantly put to the test.
Going into the second act, the pacing corrects itself and has very strong moments on all fronts and from all actors, but when we reach the third act and final scene, the pacing issue comes back in reverse with this one being too slow and leaving the big heartfelt climax not achieving the resonance it needs to.
The crowd on the night we were there was small, and fairly non-responsive. I even noticed that several people left at intermission. This might be in part due to the pacing problems I just mentioned but it may just as well be a commentary on the audience. My thinking is that, rooted in Irish culture and British imperialism, Translations is a play that just might not do much for a modern Canadian audience.
Photo for this article taken for Production Ottawa by Production Ottawa photographer, David Pasho.
Video production courtesy of Valley Wind Productions, produced by Allan Mackey.