It often surprises people who A fight against… (Una Lucha Contra…) is a world first, not only in English, but in any language, including Spanish. That a play is performed in English even before having a production, or at least being published, in its original language is a rarity.
Theaters in the UK are quite reluctant to produce translated plays, even when those plays in their original language have been successful at home. For a major London venue to produce a brand new play not originally written in English would seem like a leap of faith. Fortunately for Pablo Manzi and myself, it is a faith that the Royal Court has professed for several decades. A fight against… is the latest in a long line of translated plays that were not only created, but also commissioned by the English Stage Company.
Besides being exciting and pioneering, this policy also allows for an almost unique translation process. While most translators of literature only begin work on their translations once the original has been completed, the Royal Court process means that translators work on new pieces from their very first drafts, rendering every new piece into English. version of the text almost parallel to the writing of the playwright. them.
In the case of A fight against…, this process has been going on for several years (one more than expected, due to COVID). Pablo wrote his first draft in 2017, while in residence at the Royal Court here in London. I translated this draft and each of the following ones, my excitement growing each time a new section was written, feeling a certain sadness with each cut, and, just as Pablo was making his own edits, adjusting my translation each time, the more I learned about the coin and its inner workings.
It could not have succeeded without the commitment of the Royal Court to keep writer and translator in the same loop. During Pablo’s residency in 2017, and then in Brussels in 2019, I met Pablo and our director, Royal Court Associate (International) Sam Pritchard, to discuss the play, explore the nuances of each scene and better understand the political and philosophical themes that was behind his writing. Throughout the pandemic, these conversations continued via Zoom, and from the start, countless emails were exchanged with more detailed queries. This meant that by the time we reached the rehearsal room in November 2021, the translation was already in good shape.
But just as the piece itself only found its final form during rehearsals, so did the translation. Minutiae of meaning suddenly appeared as the actors brought the scenes into their voices and bodies. Was this intention clear? Was this rhythm right? How would this character address his colleague right now? Does “chocolate” just mean chocolate, or does it mean something else? Almost until the press night, little details continued to leak out.
Exceptionally, the January 21 performance will be accompanied by Spanish surtitles, a chance for bilingual audience members to form their own opinion on the quality of the translation. This welcome innovation at the Royal Court is an important acknowledgment of the origins of Pablo’s piece. Another is the fact that, for the first time in the history of the Royal Court, A fight against… has an all-Latinx cast (we also have Latinx colleagues in the wider creative team). Proof that, where there is a will, and even as politics and pandemics close our borders, the theater can still be a real place of welcome to the world.
Performances of A Fight Against… (Una Lucha Contra…) will resume from January 4 to 22, 2022. On January 21, the performance will have Spanish surtitles. Book your tickets here.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton