Cultural capital in intercultural theatre: A study of Pan Pan theatre company’s The Playboy of the Western World

Emer O’Toole
Concordia University, Montreal

Abstract

In 2006, the Dublin-based theatre company Pan Pan went to China to produce a Mandarin version of J.M. Synge’s canonical Irish play The Playboy of the Western World. Director Gavin Quinn chose to set the adaptation in a hairdresser/ massage parlour/brothel, on the outskirts of Beijing. He originally wanted the protagonist to hail from Xin-Jiang, China’s troubled Sinomuslim province. In interview, he said he was advised against this for fear of Chinese state censorship. However, the Chinese translators, Yue Sun and Zhaohui Wang, suggest that the decision not to represent a Muslim protagonist had to do with ethnic sensitivities. In order to analyse this conflict, this article draws on translation sociology after Bourdieu, clarifying the functioning of the habitus, and formulating a global field of cultural production. It argues that analysis of intercultural processes focused on cultural capital can provide materially engaged insights into the power relations informing given intercultural situations.

Keywords
Table of contents

In 2006, the Dublin based theatre company Pan Pan went to Beijing to produce a Mandarin Chinese version of J.M. Synge’s canonical Irish play The Playboy of the Western World. The production, which had an all-Chinese cast, played first in Beijing and later in Dublin. Director Gavin Quinn chose to set the adaptation in a “whore-dressers” (Quinn 2009: 3), or hairdresser/foot-massage parlour/brothel, on the outskirts of contemporary Beijing. He penned an adaptation in English, and worked with Chinese translators to produce a performable Mandarin script. The development of this script was a complex affair. On arriving in China, Quinn [ p. 408 ]consulted professors at Beijing University to find out if there had ever been a Mandarin translation of the play, and was told that there had not. Consequently, Pan Pan employed a translator to render Synge’s text into Mandarin Chinese. When this first translation was finished, a dramatist, Yue Sun, was employed to work on it, adding idiom and style. As this process was underway, a Chinese translation of The Playboy was unearthed. It was from the 1920s, and written in a classical Chinese idiom difficult for modern Chinese people to understand. Some of this classical script informed Yue’s text. As Yue worked with the first translation, Quinn created an adaptation, written in English, which re-situated The Playboy of the Western World in the “semi-legal” and “semi-tolerated” situation of a whoredressers (Quinn 2009: 3). Yue’s completed script was used as a model and guide for Quinn’s adaptation to be translated into contemporary Chinese by another translator, Wang Zhaohui. Finally, this second translation was adapted to “the language of the moment” (Quinn 2009: 1), the colloquial street language of contemporary Beijing, by Yue. My interviews with Quinn, Yue and Wang indicate that all three were very much in dialogue about the content of the finished script throughout the translation process. According to Quinn, the actors further enriched the translation, suggesting appropriate terminology throughout the rehearsal period.

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