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.