The European street.
Le Nettoyeur de Vent, (The wind cleaner) Hat Fair, Winchester, England.
The issue of language has, of course, been at the heart of our work , for playing Le N. du Vent in the UK. (as it would have been if we had played in Spain or China) and for various reasons. The first is that the show lasts for 5 days (and 5 full days at that !). The show works on the curiosity of the public towards the actions of the character (Nicolas Gengoux). Question and answers, insuring fidelity to the written play, and developing improvisation, based on discussions with passers-by, who feed the theatrical content of the performance.
The second is that the character is a French specialist in plant osteopathy. This, in my mind, gives the character a touch of ‘exotism’ combined with the ‘false-seriousness’ of the subject matter. This is important for a story, which will hold the public in an ambiguity (are these characters playing with us, or do they really believe, or is this really real ?) over a 4 day period, before the totally theatrical rendez-vous on the fifth day.
The third, much more mundane, reason is that the actor I am talking about speaks hardly any English, even less Spanish and not a word of Chinese.
I can say that the choice of actor-translator was easy because I already knew Barnaby through his work with the French theatre company Le Phun. Our paths have often crossed over the past few years, our last meeting being in 2009 in Calais where I played Le N. du Vent, and he, The seedlings revenge with Le Phun. Sharing the same back-stage area we had spent many long evenings discussing our respective work, and so when Sian (artistic director of Hat Fair) invited us to play at Hat Fair, Barnaby accepted the proposal of actor-translator.
The idea was that Barnaby came to see one of our shows and build his character during this period. In the mean time Barnaby was given the responsibility of translating the publicity and the technical requirements for the show (telephone correspondence for the accuracy of words). Because the English booking was the first of the tour Barnaby came to Nantes, where we spent 3 days with the VO team rehursing. (Presentation and demonstration of the equipment used in the show, round the table discussions of previous performances of N. de Vent, (problems encountered, emotions experienced etc. etc.).
Barnaby suggested that his character (Peter Parkin, a trained botanist) had been commissioned by Kew Gardens to accompany the Frenchman Nicolas Gengoux, plant osteopath, during his stay in Britain. In the same way as I do not define Nicolas Gengoux as a gardener or botanist, to avoid any difficulties when meeting people from those particular disciplines, Peter Parkin changed from Kew Botanist to Accountant at Kew Gardens chosen to accompany Monsieur Gengoux because he was the only one at Kew able to speak French ! Nicolas Gengoux had been invited to England, by Kew, as part of a pilot scheme to test his method of treatment, on the trees of Winchester Cathedral gardens. Peter Parkin : between curiosity, respect and scepticism. It was necessary to find the right place for his character in the performance, not to close, to allow the passing public to contact with Nicolas Gengoux, nor too far away so as to respond rapidly to any translation or dialogue. In dealing with the curios passer-by, it was important for Peter Parkin to constantly reorient the discussion towards N. Gengoux. It was important to keep to the subject of the show, to not depart from the centre of interest and to constantly orientate the passer-by towards the imaginary paths proposed by the show.
We had to find a suitable costume for P. Parkin, olive drab shorts, brogues, calf-high socks, check-shirt and tweed jacket with badge. It was also important to give Parkin certain occupations, such as taking notes and sketches (for his Kew garden report).
There you have it, a few words about how we adapted a show for the European street-theatre space.
The experience of HatFair Winchester has convinced us that the English public, in the same way as the French, Spanish and almost certainly the Chinese, is ready to slip through the door of the imaginary, which we as actors of “live-art“ have been able to open for them. Thank you to Sian for her belief in this story for having made this meeting possible.