BOOK REVIEW / Right on the tip of their tongues: 'Desdemona - If You Had Only Spoken]' - Christine Bruckner, trs Eleanor Bron: Virago, 5.99

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
If Desdemona had spoken instead of just lying there suggestively in that bed, she might have been able to convince Othello that making love to a woman is far more enjoyable than strangling her. If Katharine Luther had been able to get through to Martin, he might have realised that the body had to be nourished as well as the soul. If Clytemnestra had made her views on the murder of Iphigenia public, she might have been able to prevent the Trojan War. And if Eleanor Bron had not happened onto an advertisement for the work of Christine Bruckner while attending a dreary play in Hamburg, we in this country might never have had a chance to see this collection of monologues - '11 Uncensored Speeches of 11 Incensed Women' as the subtitle puts it - that could have changed the world.

To translate them, we discover in Bron's pillow-talk preface, she had an obstacle to overcome. Her German, she confesses, had never been very good. Her first reading of Desdemona's monologue was, she says 'tantalising. It gave me gists and gleanings, but the gists were full of holes and misreadings and the gleanings intermittent'. But she knew she was onto some good material. So she set to work, having enlisted the help of John Rignall of the English Department at Warwick University. Another good citizenship award goes to the director Stuart Burge, who let her prepare four of the monologues for performance in his German season at the Almeida Theatre.

We didn't need to know any of this, of course, but Bron's frankness is disarming. The translation is a little stiff and cries out for Bron the performer to breathe life into it. And the monologues themselves? They are sincere, passionate and laden with home truths. Although each woman has a distinctive voice - Goethe's wife is earthy, Gudrun Ennselin of the Baader-Meinhof gang is foul-mouthed, the Virgin Mary is scratchy and confused - all confirm the Christine Bruckner canon. We should get rid of our sexual hang-ups and enjoy ourselves, accept nature instead of trying to explain it all the time, nourish the body as well as the soul, give as much importance to birth as to death, and stun all poets, especially romantic poets, into silence. 'You don't pick the figs, Petrarch,' moans Laura as she succumbs to the plague. 'You just look at them, think about them, praise their sweetness and their bloom.'

True enough, Laura, but he also had a way with words. On this evidence, Christine Bruckner is good enough for an evening's amusement but no competition for the male geniuses she targets. Even though her heart is in the right place, she is so repetitive that by the time you reach the end of the eleventh speech you long to be seduced by a well-fashioned lie.