Theatre gives a voice to the common man
- Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer
When foreign language plays are translated for the stage they usually end up as starchy period pieces with cut-glass accents. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to writer Blake Morrison about making the classics much more egalitarian.
Suffolk-based writer Blake Morrison may have immortalised Shingle Street in his last book but a large part of his heart remains devoted to his Yorkshire birthplace..
This is one of the reasons he has developed a close working relationship with artistic director Barrie Rutter, artistic director of Northern Broadsides theatre company.
Northern Broadsides offers dynamic, stripped down productions which suits Blake Morrison’s style of writing and the pair have collaborated regularly over the past 21 years.
The essence of Northern Broadsides work is to give a distinct northern voice to the plays they stage. Blake Morrison said that for his latest work, For Love or Money, the challenge has been to transfer an 18th century French comedy to a Yorkshire town in the 1920s.
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“It’s a play about money, and nothing’s more topical than money. I knew I wanted to update it but I didn’t want to set it in London nor have it populated with yuppie types or get embroiled in the Thatcher Years.
“It was then that I realised that the 1920s had a similar hedonistic feel. Everyone was relieved that the First World War was over and the Wall Street Crash was still some years away – the 1920s, even for towns in Yorkshire, was a time for letting your hair down. There was money about, for the first time, and the bright young things wanted to have fun.”
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Blake said that he has adapted seven plays over the last two decades – written in German, Italian, Russian and Ancient Greek – and has worked from a very basic translation, so he can shape them into something of his own.
“I have found that the dialogue only needs minor adjustments for it to be Yorkshire-fied. Wherever and whenever the original play is set, I try to render it in a language that’s true to Rutter’s allegiance to northern speech.”
The original play, set during the reign of Louis XIV, concerned itself with so-called tax-farmers, who exploited the poor and made themselves huge profits. Blake Morrison’s version concerns itself with a local bank manager called Fuller who appears besotted with a young widow.
For Love or Money, by Blake Morrison, is at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds from October 18-21.