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Guest Blog: Translator William Gregory On A FIGHT AGAINST... (UNA LUCHA CONTRA...)


Pablo Manzi's play is currently running at the Royal Court

Guest Blog: Translator William Gregory On A FIGHT AGAINST... (UNA LUCHA CONTRA...)

It often comes as a surprise to people that A Fight Against... (Una Lucha Contra...) is a world premiere, not only in English, but in any language, including Spanish. For a play to be performed in English before even having a production, or at least being published, in its original language is a rarity.

Theatres in the UK are reluctant enough to produce plays in translation, even when those plays in their original languages 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, this is a faith that the Royal Court has professed for several decades. A Fight Against... is the latest in a long line of plays in translation that have been not only premiered, but also commissioned, by the English Stage Company.

As well as being exciting and pioneering, this policy also makes for a translation process that is close to unique. While most translators of literature only start working on their translations once the original is finished, the Royal Court process means that translators work on new plays from their very first drafts, rendering into English every new version of the text almost in parallel with the playwright writing them.

In the case of A Fight Against..., this process has lasted for several years (one longer than planned, owing to COVID). Pablo wrote his first draft in 2017, while on a residency with the Royal Court here in London. I translated this draft and each subsequent one, my excitement growing each time a new section was written, feeling some sadness each time a cut was made, and, just as Pablo was making his own changes, adjusting my translation each time, the more I learned about the play and its inner workings.

Guest Blog: Translator William Gregory On A FIGHT AGAINST... (UNA LUCHA CONTRA...) This could not have been successful without the Royal Court's commitment to keeping writer and translator in the same loop. During Pablo's 2017 residency, and later, in Brussels in 2019, I met Pablo and our director, Royal Court Associate (International) Sam Pritchard, to discuss the play, exploring the nuances of each scene and understanding better the themes of politics and philosophy that lay behind his writing. Throughout the pandemic, these conversations continued through Zoom, and right from the start, countless emails have pinged to-and-fro 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 play itself only found its final form through rehearsals, so too did the translation. Minutiae of meaning suddenly popped out as the actors brought the scenes into their voices and bodies. Was this intention clear? Was this rhythm right? How would this character address their colleague in this moment? Does 'chocolate' just mean chocolate, or does it mean something else? Almost until press night, small details continued to make themselves known.

Unusually, the performance on 21 January will be accompanied by Spanish surtitles, a chance for the bilingual in the audience to make their own minds up as to how well the translation has worked. This welcome innovation at the Royal Court is an important acknowledgement of the origins of Pablo's play. Another is the fact that, for the first time in Royal Court history, A Fight Against... has a fully Latinx cast (we also have Latinx colleagues in the wider creative team). Proof that, where there's a will, and even as politics and pandemics close our borders, theatre can still be a place that truly welcomes the world.

Performances of A Fight Against... (Una Lucha Contra...) will resume from 4-22 January 2022. On 21 January, the performance will have Spanish surtitles. Book tickets here.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

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