BBC Radio 4, 4 September 2010
First produced by the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980, Translations
is set in rural Ireland durng the 1830s, at a time when the English army, acting
on the government's behalf, were making new maps of the terrain with all the original Gaelic names transformed into English.
By such means the English reinforced their colonial dominance over the Irish people.
Translations looks at the relationship between language and power, and how
words are used as instruments of colonization. Friel also looks at how inter- or cross-cultural speakers such as Owen (Eugene
O'Hare), who know both Gaelic and English, are co-opted into the colonialist cause as they act as interpreters for the soldiers
Lancey (Mark Bazeley) and Yolland (Samuel Barnett). Despite their efforts, they can never suppress the Irish people's resistance
- as symbolized through the Gaelic language with its ancient associations with Latin and Greek. Doalty (John Paul Connolly)
is the principal representative of the rural community - someone who not only understands the English soldiers' purpose, but
finds innumerable ways to outwit them.
At the same time Translations is also a very humane play in its focus
on lack of communication - as represented by Sarah (Roisin Gallagher), who seems to have been traumatized into silence. Although
persuaded to utter a few words, she finds the task difficult in the extreme. She only learns to communicate with Yolland in
a fashion beyond words; they cannot understand what they are saying to one another, but at the same time read one another's
minds. The two of them embark on a love-affair which might seem to offer one way out of the colonialist dilemma; if communities
made the effort to understand, rather than simply communicate with one another, then perhaps they might learn to co-exist.
However this love-affair is smashed on the anvil of realpolitik: the Irish
cannot abide one of their citizens falling in love with a foreigner, while Lancey seems Yolland's act as disloyal to the colonialist
cause. When Yolland disappears, Lancey imposes strict punishments on the Irish, even though none of them were actually involved.
He understands how difficult it is to police non-verbal communicative acts; they are much more important than acts of verbal
translation. The only way to retain power is to meet such acts with violence - and thereby destroy any future communication
between the two communities.
In Kirsty Williams' production, the love-affair between Yolland and Sarah seemed
a little sentimental, as the two of them met like ships that pass in the night, and decided to run away together. However
perhaps this was deliberate, as it allowed Williams to contrast Yolland's and Sarah's responses with those of the British
army, who refused to admit the fact that Yolland had given in to his emotions, and blamed the Irish instead. This reaction
illustrated the basic weakness of the colonialist mentality; despite their show of strength, the British army perpetually believed
that their power was perpetually under threat.