In conversation with Maja Zade


Q. When did you first start translating German works into English and why?

I used to be the senior script reader at the Royal Court Theatre in London but had just left to take up a job at the Schaubühne in Berlin, and the Court phoned me because they had commissioned a translation of a new German play; they thought it was terrible and weren’t sure if it was the translation or the play, so I redid the first couple of pages and they liked it so much they asked me to translate the whole play. And then on the basis of that translation I got more offers and a German publisher also asked me to translate a Lars von Trier script the other way, ie English into German, so I started doing that as well. But really, it’s not a full time job because I’m a dramaturg at the Schaubühne, and the good thing about that is that I can only take on translations where I like the play so much that I want to spend my spare time on it…

Q. Comedy can be difficult to write at the best of times. As a writer yourself, how challenging was the task of translating the humour from German to English?

Some of the verbal humour and the puns are difficult, of course, but I think David is influenced by a lot of American and English comedy from both theatre and TV, so most of it seemed to work in English quite easily.

Q. As a dramaturg, how critical is your eye – are you also aware of making corrections or suggestions, when you’re translating a play?

In this particular case the Schaubühne commissioned the play and I was the dramaturg on the production, so I spent a long time working on the play both before we got to rehearsals and during it, so by the time I started to translate it I’d made all my comments and knew the play and how each scene worked really well, which of course is ideal. And if I really think a play needs more work I usually turn down the translation.

Q. What do you like most about Gieselmann’s play, The Pigeons? (as far as plot, language, characters etc)

Of course I love his sense of humour, and I also love the fluid structure and time jumps, comedies are often conventional in form and his isn’t, which I think is a real achievement.

Q. Did you attend the reading at the 2009 production at the Royal Court? If yes, how did the audience receive it? Were their reactions similar to German audiences?

The audience really liked it, though of course especially with comedy a lot of it is either about timing or about physical action, and those two things are difficult to achieve in a reading. On the whole though, I think English audiences are really quick to laugh and pick up on verbal humour a lot faster than a German audience.