Patricia Benecke On ... Bringing Foreign Voices to UK Theatre
Their most recent production is Scorched by award-winning playwright Wajdi Mouawad, presented at The Old Vic Tunnels. ,Lebanese born Mouawad is currently the artistic director of French theatre at Canada's National Theatre.
Patricia tells us a little bit about translating and presenting Scorched, as well as her work discovering other gems of foreign theatre to bring to UK audiences.
What I love about my work is the opportunity to direct plays both in Germany and Britain. Living and working in both cultures has been constantly surprising and a real education in terms of communication.
I have been passionate about theatre since my student days; at the time, I particularly remember watching a play called Merlin by Tankred Dorst, a modern German classic full of unexpected twists and turns, mixing poetry with action, humour with tragedy and giving the audience a sensory as well as intellectual experience. That’s the kind of theatre I love and have tried to make since.
When I set up Dialogue Productions (with British actor/producer Patrick Driver), it gave me the opportunity to find and read such plays, from my native Germany at first, then later from all over the world, which is incredibly rewarding. The task then is to identify plays that will work in English and for British theatregoers. We have been really pleased about the audience response to our work, in London as well as on tours, with lots of people saying how much they enjoy seeing the kind of international work we produce and that they want more of it - it makes all the work worthwhile.
Our current show, Scorched by the internationally acclaimed playwright Wajdi Mouawad is a good example. I discovered him whilst researching French Canadian theatre a few years ago and loved his bold, poetic and intensely political writing. His personal experiences in the war-torn Lebanon of his childhood inform all his work, but he always ensures that his plays tell a universal story. Written in French, his work needs careful translation and adapting for a British audience and offers fantastic opportunities for a director to be creative with the staging. Getting this amazing play produced has been an exhilarating journey and we are very grateful to The Old Vic for sharing our passion for it and co-producing it with us.
When we first saw the Old Vic Tunnels, we were excited by the epic scale of the space and the soundscape that naturally dominates it. The more time we spent in these tunnels under Waterloo Station, the more we progressed with design, lighting and music/sound ideas for Scorched, the more the space became the perfect setting. The crumbling Victorian brick arches look uncannily Middle Eastern when lit right, the decaying walls and floor and the design elements that Naomi Dawson has brought in give a real sense of a war-torn country and beautifully retain the timeless quality of the piece itself. The trains eerily sound like the rumble of bombs and distant gunfire, which is perfect for the piece.
The Old Vic Tunnels venue is a brilliant example of how vibrant the British theatre scene is, renewing and reinventing itself, constantly setting itself new artistic challenges – and that’s what making theatre is all about.