Posts Tagged ‘Racine’

Berenice, The Space, 1500 24 January

January 24, 2015

****

A publicity photo suggesting the black-and-white romantic difficulties of attractive young people

A publicity photo suggesting the black-and-white romantic difficulties of attractive young people

This adaptation of the tragedy by Racine was really very good.  The basis of the story is that having become Emperor on the death of his father Vespasian Titus feels he has to send away his beloved, the Queen Berenice, for fear of rousing the anger of the populace by marrying a monarch and a foreigner.  Meanwhile, Antiochus, friend and ally of Titus, has for five long years been hiding his own love for Berenice.  In this adaptation, the action is set in an alternate future 2050, as explained in a trailer here.

But for me what really worked was the whole In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister thing, with the subsidiary characters conflated into Phenice as a spin doctor and the characters all dressed in black, apart from Berenice who had a red dress.  The one artistic decision I would quarrel with would be emphasising Berenice’s Jewishness, visually at least–she has a Greek name after all.  The direction was wonderfully effective in suggesting the characters struggling and failing to break free of their allotted roles.

I also enjoyed the translation by director Fay Lomas, while also trying to work out whether it was isosyllabic, in sprung rhythm, or what.  In fact, she produced some very effective lines by making something more concrete (and so English) out of the Racinian:

Que le jour recommence, et que le jour finisse,
Sans que jamais Titus puisse voir Bérénice,
Sans que de tout le jour je puisse voir Titus?

and

Je sais que tant d’amour n’en peut être effacée;
Que ma douleur présente et ma bonté passée,
Mon sang, qu’en ce palais je veux même verser,
Sont autant d’ennemis que je vais vous laisser;
Et, sans me repentir de ma persévérance,
J e me remets sur eux de toute ma vengeance.

Among the actors, I especially appreciated Ally Manson as Antiochus, bent this way and that by a cruel fate, while I felt that our Berenice could usefully have shown more reaction on first hearing of her dismissal, stood up straighter and generally given the impression of someone (a queen or an actress) used to living with the eyes of the public on her–but she was also very touching in many of the later scenes.

A pity that this didn’t have a longer run!

 

About that translation of Britannicus…

October 27, 2011

I’ve been thinking about Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Britannicus translation, which seemed both natural and highly effective to me. Racine didn’t really do sparkly poetic bling, but I think the nearest thing might be Nero’s speech about seeing Junia from Act II Sc 2:

Excité d’un désir curieux,
Cette nuit je l’ai vue arriver en ces lieux,
Triste, levant au ciel ses yeux mouillés de larmes,
Qui brillaient au travers des flambeaux et des armes,
Belle, sans ornements, dans le simple appareil
D’une beauté qu’on vient d’arracher au sommeil.
Que veux−tu ? Je ne sais si cette négligence,
Les ombres, les flambeaux, les cris et le silence,
Et le farouche aspect de ses fiers ravisseurs,
Relevaient de ses yeux les timides douceurs,
Quoi qu’il en soit, ravi d’une si belle vue,
J’ai voulu lui parler, et ma voix s’est perdue :
Immobile, saisi d’un long étonnement,
Je l’ai laissé passer dans son appartement.
J’ai passé dans le mien. C’est là que, solitaire,
De son image en vain j’ai voulu me distraire.
Trop présente à mes yeux je croyais lui parler,
J’aimais jusqu’à ses pleurs que je faisais couler.
Quelquefois, mais trop tard, je lui demandais grâce ;
J’employais les soupirs, et même la menace.
Voilà comme, occupé de mon nouvel amour,
Mes yeux, sans se fermer, ont attendu le jour.
Mais je m’en fais peut−être une trop belle image,
Elle m’est apparue avec trop d’avantage :
Narcisse, qu’en dis−tu ?

In the translation we have:

It was curiosity–
I saw her come to the palace last night.
She lifted her tear-filled eyes to the skies,
tears that glinted more brightly than weapons, flames–
Lovely, without ornaments, and simply
dressed with the beauty of one still asleep.
What can I say? Was it this scant cover,
the shadows, torches, cries and then silence
or the fierce look of those who were holding her
bringing out the soft shyness of her eyes?
I don’t know–I was entranced by this sight–
I tried to speak to her, my voice left me.
I was rooted to the spot, struck, amazed,
and I let her walk by me to her rooms.
I went to my own rooms and there, alone,
I tried to free myself from her image.
But she was there, before my eyes, I spoke
to her–my love ignited by her tears–
those tears I had caused. Sometimes–but too late–
I asked for her forgiveness, using sighs,
or, when I needed to, terrible threats.
That’s how I spent the whole night–without sleep:
but perhaps I’ve embellished her image–
she appeared to me in too soft a light.
What do you think, Narcissus?

So.  The original in in alexandrines (rhymed iambic hexameter) obviously enough, while the translation–has about ten syllables a line, and that’s about all I can think to say about the prosody.  The translation certainly gets all of the ideas out and across; it took me 77 seconds to read aloud as against 105 for the original.  That lends weight to what one commentator on this production said about the English preference for people doing things on stage as opposed to just talking to each other.

Isn’t the point about Racine that he was writing Huis Clos all the time–a small group of people trapped together by their mutual loathing and dependence?  And the way that things are held formly in place by his alexandrines reflects that or indeed embodies it?  Well that’s not something you could reproduce in English, at least I rather hope not…

Britannicus Wilton’s Music Hall 14 October

October 15, 2011

Where the audience sat is now the playing area

The publicity for this show was keen to emphasise that it was one of a week or so of previews leading up to the official opening on Friday 21st.  This may mean that I ought to be silent like Junia meeting her beloved Britannicus while Nero watches from concealment, ready to have him executed if she gives him the merest sign–but I can’t see the need for such defensiveness.

I thought that this was the best play, in terms of the text that I’d seen for some time.  (The story is about how the Emperor Nero goes beyond the calculating and expedient evil of his mother Agrippina, rejects the advice of his wise consellors and becomes a monster, and it turned out to be highly effective.)  The translation seemed entirely natural, and my fears that the evening might involve characters standing motionless declaiming at each other proved entirely groundless.  The production was both simple and imaginative–as illustrated above, the theatre had been turned round so that the actors played where the audience normally sit.

At this stage of the show’s development, Matthew Needham was already very very good as Nero, a kind of nervous ill-tempered adolescent playing with the role of Emperor, and the Margaret-Thatcher-styled Agrippina of Sian Thomas showed great promise of daunting things to come.  (Those actors  who didn’t quite know all of their lines yet at this stage will know who they were.)

Definitely worth seeing once it has begun for real!

Even before noticing that director Irina Brown hailed from St Petersburg, I thought there was soomething very Russian about this show.  The scene between Junia and Britannicus under the hidden surveillance of Nero could easily be retitled ‘The fate of the creative intelligentsia under Soviet power’, and Matthew Needham had something of the gawky air (and indeed face) of Peter the Great.  But there’s more to it than that.

Update:  more about the translation here.