The Interpreters

A writer looking to translate a script from English to French engages a French translator, but the simple act of translating of a text becomes a process of self-translation and transformation. On a dark stage, language becomes sound and words become images.

Since 2020, I have been talking to French translator Séverine Magois about the dramaturgy of translation and the act of interpretation. Our conversations, hundreds of hours of talking, have all been recorded. Fragments from these recordings have since been re-contextualised to occur in and around an imaged landscape: in a Paris apartment, on a zoom call, wandering through Luxembourg Gardens, in a moving car during a rainstorm, on an evening stroll in Maine… And through these many exchanges, questions start to emerge around authenticity: what has been constructed, who is translating who, and what is it for someone else to be your voice.

The audience experience The Interpreters as an ambisonic theatre installation set almost entirely in the dark. Surrounding a foam circle where the audience sit, recline and lean are 26 speakers and 4 subs that create a 3D aural landscape. With almost no visual information, except the images that form in the audience’s imaginations, the work is built around intimate dialogues that have been painstakingly constructed from 4 years of recorded material. A choice between words has been made; thoughts and meaning re-contextualised; sentences built – sometimes word by word; and a completely manufactured sound environment in order to blur the line between fiction and documentary. Playing on the idea of words as sound, scenes are intermittently bookended by songs, the work always threatening to become a musical.

The effect of The Interpreters is like the experience of reading a novel and the feeling that reading that novel evokes.

“One of my immediate thoughts regarding this piece is this idea that we are our own interpreters. That we spend our whole lives trying to interpret our thoughts and put them into action… And how many of our interactions with other people are about us attempting to translate ourselves to each other and the space, or spaces, that occur in the process…”
– Audience Member

Concept, Direction and Composition by NICOLA GUNN
Sound Composition and Design by THOROLF THUESTAD
Lighting Design by EMMA VALENTE

Co-produced by BIT-Teatergarasjen, Black Box Teater and Rosendal Teater. Supported by Norsk Kulturrådet, Fond for Lyd og Bilde, Bergen Kommune and AsiaTOPA Festival through the Playking Foundation. Residency support from Carte Blanche, BEK (Bergen Elektronik Kunstsenter), KMD (Kunst Musik Design) and Live Studio at Bergen Kunsthall.

Photos: Atle Auren, Justin Batchelor and Cristian Stefanescu