David Lister: One language, two cultures – but not everything needs to be translated for America

The Week in Arts

There was something about the previews on Broadway this week of the West End hit One Man, Two Guvnors which fascinated me far more than whether James Corden would win over New York audiences. He did, of course, and deserved to with a comic tour de force.

I was more intrigued, and not a little annoyed, that the play's author Richard Bean and its director Sir Nicholas Hytner, also artistic director of the National Theatre, had been changing parts of the play so that American audiences would understand it.

References to cricket were pondered over; a solicitor became an attorney; double yellow lines were changed to "double parked". And, a dagger to the heart of this Arsenal fan, a reference to a "Gooner" was excised, deemed certain to frighten the natives.

I bow to no one in my admiration for Nick Hytner, but was this really necessary? It doesn't seem to happen when plays cross the Atlantic from the other direction. One of the greatest American plays ever written is Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. We don't have streetcars over here, just as America does not have solicitors. But you know what? I worked it out. And somehow "A Bus Named Desire" loses the poetry in translation.

And I feel I have been watching TV dramas about attorneys for ever. Worked that one out too. Likewise fire hydrants and several hundred other references to daily American life on British TV, film and stage. American authors, directors and producers don't seem to feel the need to translate before setting their vocabulary loose upon British audiences. Why do we feel the fear of being misunderstood?

I don't believe a Broadway audience needs to be patronised in this way. They've heard of cricket. They might even be interested to learn a bit more about cricket, to hear a cricketing joke. They don't need to be protected from cricket, any more than they need to have solicitor translated. They are intelligent, inquisitive people.

But the bigger point is that once you start rewriting plays, even odd phrases from plays, for a particular audience, where do you stop? Parts of Shakespeare's comedies are not easily understood, even by a British audience. Do we slip in a few words of translation to make life easier?

A joy of theatre, and perhaps most especially comedy, is being on a journey of discovery. Those of us who have never played baseball, never been in an American courtroom, never ridden a streetcar or studied the jargon of a salesman, can appreciate the references, and can work out meanings and dissect humour even where experience is lacking. It's absurd to think that an American audience is not capable of making the same effort and achieving the same results.

There's something that makes me feel a little uncomfortable in taking a work of art, any work of art, and amending it to what one suspects is the tolerance level of an audience or nationality. Place the work in front of them. It's not the job of anyone to second guess an audience's power of understanding, not even the writer and director.

All change in the world of ballet

The English National Ballet has landed a real prize with its appointment of Tamara Rojo as its new artistic director. Rojo, currently principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, is probably the best ballerina in Britain, and when I met her I found her to be not just utterly charismatic but a serious thinker about the state of dance.

For the Royal Ballet this means that it has recently lost its big male star, Sergei Polunin, and now Rojo. To lose one star is unfortunate, to lose two ... well, the thought must have occurred to them. For dance fans, though, it means that the English National Ballet might soon offer some real competition to the Royal, and that can only be exciting news. They will have to be even more on their toes than usual at Covent Garden.

This all-London party should stop

Meanwhile, congratulations to the Royal Opera House, which has three nominations for opera in tomorrow night's Olivier Awards, and bigger congratulations to the English National Opera, which has six nominations. But wait a minute, the Olivier Awards are only for London performances, and these are the only two dedicated opera houses in London, so they are always likely to be nominated really, aren't they?

At least this year Sadler's Wells threatens to spoil the party with one nomination. But the annual flurry of nominations for the ROH and ENO, with consequent mentions on their publicity material, is a bit meaningless really. They're always going to be there – unless the organisers of the Oliviers do something really radical, and acknowledge that there is life and art outside London.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

Twitter.com/davidlister1

Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible