I didn’t see the original production of Red at the Donmar in 2009 and I never went for Rothko’s art before I saw Red, but now I can’t wait to see Rothko’s art again. In John Logan’s play, directed by Michael Grandage, we get a flow of speech and action between Rothko, played by Alfred Molina and his assistant Ken played by Alfred Enoch, which is a work of art in itself, creating a rhythmic expression of the thoughts and painting of Rothko. There is a whole world within the studio which is the set of the play. The action, which runs over 2 years is centred around the commission Rothko has accepted to create a series of pictures, the Seagram Murals, for the walls of the new Four Season’s restaurant. I think the part I loved the most was Rothko saying how a painting needs to be looked at – that contemplation was of equal importance to the deed of putting on the paint. He hopes that people will be kind to his paintings once they’re hung. Ken offers the energy of the young of the new and of change. While Rothko accepts and encourages this, he is at pains to guide his young assistant into an appreciation of what makes art truly great. He gives Rembrandt as an example and he describes the glowing light of a Caravaggio painting that he saw in a dark corner of a chapel. He finds his art in light and dark – in the spirit of the picture and he cannot come to terms with the concept of pop art and the everyday images of Warhol’s work. The writing is strong and Molina embodies the life in Rothko. From the outside we see his struggle and all human struggle to be receptive and alive and creative when all the time we are aware of inevitable death.
The Father is to be made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins with the writer Florian Zeller as director. Anyone who saw the original stage play would celebrate that it’s being made into a film. How much of the success of the play was down to the translation by playwright Christopher Hampton and his working relationship with Florian Zeller, is unknown, but I would think it’s 80%. Any actor who’s laboured under the words of a bad translation knows the value of a clean well transposed/translated & adapted script. Scripts that are translated, to sound stilted and remote – giving signals of “look how intellectual we are” to a puzzled audience were blown away all those years ago by Dorothy Parker in the New Yorker.
Richard Eyre’s adaptation of a translation of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen was in the bone, crystal clear. Ibsen, perhaps because there weren’t many translators into English from his Norwegian influenced Danish, in the mid 1800s, was uneasily translated right up until the1970s.
In a letter written in 1872, Henrik Ibsen said that the translation of his plays was: “not simply a matter of translating the meaning but also, to a certain extent, of re-creating the style and the images and ultimately adapting the entire form of expression to the structure and demands of the language into which one is translating.”
For a long time I’ve been interested in the adaptation of a couple of plays of Camus and was fortunate enough to meet an expert in Theatre Translation – Dr John Whittaker at a CIOL event, who sent me information on the background to Cross Purpose (The Misunderstanding) and a link to La Société pour l’étude de Camusienne, which gives a background to the impetus behind Camus’ plays.
It is quite rare for a living playright to offer their work to a translator without first knowing them. It happened to a student of mine a few years back, who was asked by the literary department of the National Theatre to translate a play from the original French. It was a success and a good experience for her, – she is a very good in-depth listener and would always read her work out loud. She also works in voice-overs in Spain where she now lives.
Looking forward to seeing Anthony Hopkins star as Andre in the film adaptation of Florian Zeller’s The Father.