The Translator’s Dilemma

In Edinburgh earlier this month for family reasons, I made the most of being there at the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see some plays, including one in which one of my nieces was performing. Amongst others I also went along to see a play called The Translator’s Dilemma by The Scandal Theatre Company. This was the blurb:

“Ottavia, a lecturer in translation studies, is covering a class for a friend. When she opens the notes, however, she realises the content is closer to home than she could imagine. Can she give a lecture on asbestos without revealing her own deadly secrets?”

It is a one-hour fictional play inspired by real-life events and designed to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos (it was supported by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization).

Downtown Edinburgh

Downtown Edinburgh (Photo credit: Extra Medium)

The play was in English and Italian, but no knowledge of the latter was needed as all Italian dialogue was translated. Performed in the rather unlikely location of the disused unit of a shopping centre, it was a set up like a translation class, with the audience as ‘students’. Ottavia (writer-performer Jessica Philippi) arrives late and breathless and we don’t realise straightaway that she’s already acting. Using an overhead projector the ‘lecture’ on legal translation then starts, with advice such as “focus on fidelity and you’ll be fine”. However Ottavia is soon distressed to find that she has a personal stake in the content of the lesson which is illustrated by a case-study. Pre-planned by the unwitting lecturer she’s covering for, the case-study is that of a Scottish millionaire facing charges of omicidio colposio (manslaughter) over thousands of people killed at his Italian asbestos factory and it strike too close to home for Ottavia.

Finally more about asbestos than translation, the play is nevertheless a thought-provoking story, and it both educated and entertained me.


Hello and welcome to my blog “A Smart Translator’s Reunion”. In case you’re wondering where the mouthful of a name came from: my family name is Smart, I’m a freelance translator, and I live on Reunion Island, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean.

Here are a few reasons why I started writing this blog:

  • Language and translation are passions for me, and I want to share that passion with other people.
  • Compared to most people, I probably have a slightly different perspective on things – I’m a long-term expat (I first left the UK in 1990), I live in the southern hemisphere on a remote island surrounded by people who don’t speak my native language, I’ve travelled enormously, and I also lived in the Far East for three years.
  • I often share interesting articles and information on TwitterFacebook and Google+, but the nature of these social networks means that information has a tendency to be lost in the mass. With my blog I’d like to spend longer on subjects I find really interesting.
  • As a translator I feel it’s important to practise and use my own writing skills. How can I translate into articulate English if I can’t write coherently myself?
  • Writing articles will force me to keep on learning and being curious (I know this from my experience with my other blog!).
  • I’m really looking forward to interacting with readers and getting feedback.
  • Branding & marketing: I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that I hope this blog will help me make myself known to a wider public of clients and colleagues.

The downsides:

  • As other bloggers know, blogs are easy to start but hard to maintain.
  • It means spending (even) more time in front of the computer instead of doing something useful like cleaning out my kitchen cupboards.
  • There’s always a risk of getting plagiarised (although they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).

I hope you’ll enjoy my blog, and I look forward to reading your comments and remarks.