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

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.

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.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Amine, Khalid
2010 “Taswir: Beyond East and West.” In Performing Cultural Diversity, Critiquing Postcolonialism, ed. by Khalid Amine, Barry Tharaud, José Manuel Goñi Pérez, and George F. Robertson, 75–80. Tetouan: Abdelmalek Essaadi UP.Google Scholar
Baines, Roger, Cristina Marinetti, and Manuella Perteghella
(eds) 2010Staging and Performing Translation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Balme, Christopher
1999Decolonizing the Stage: Theatrical Syncretism and Post-colonial Drama. London: Clarendon.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Bassnett, Susan
1991 “Translating for the Theatre: The Case against Performability.” TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction 4 (1): 99–111.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2002Translation Studies. 3rd edition. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Bharucha, Rustom
1984a “A Collision of Cultures: Some Western Interpretations of the Indian Theatre.” Asian Theatre Journal 1 (1): 1–20.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1984b “A Reply to Richard Schechner.” Asian Theatre Journal 1 (2): 254–260.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1988 “Peter Brook's Mahabharata: A View from India.” Economic and Political Weekly 23 (32): 1642–1647.Google Scholar
2000The Politics of Cultural Practice: Thinking Through Theatre in an Age of Globalization. London: Athlone.Google Scholar
Blommaert, Jan
2005 “Bourdieu the Ethnographer: The Ethnographic Grounding of Habitus and Voice.” The Translator 11 (2): 219–236.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Bourdieu, Pierre
1980The Logic of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. California: Stanford UP.Google Scholar
1986Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Harvard: Routledge.Google Scholar
1988Homo Academicus. Translated by Peter Colier. California: Stanford UP.Google Scholar
1993The Field of Cultural Production. Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
1999 “The Social Conditions of the International Circulation of Ideas.” In Bourdieu: A Critical Reader, ed. by Richard Shusterman, 220–228. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean-Claude Passeron
1990Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Translated by Lois Wacquant. London: Sage.[ p. 424 ]Google Scholar
Carlson, Marvin
2004 “Intercultural Theory, Postcolonial Theory, and Semiotics: The Road Not (Yet) Taken.” Semiotica 168 (1): 129–142.Google Scholar
Chaudhuri, Una
1991 “The Future of the Hyphen: Interculturalism, Textuality and the Difference Within.” In Interculturalism and Performance: Writings from PAJ, ed. by Bonnie Marranca, and Gautum Dasgupta, 192–207. New York: PAJ.Google Scholar
Dasgupta, Gautum
1991 “Peter Brook's ‘Orientalism’.” In Peter Brook and the Mahabharata: Critical Perspectives, ed. by David Williams, 262–267. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
During, Simon
1995 “Postmodernism or Post-colonialism Today.” In The Post-colonial Studies Reader, ed. by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, 125–129. Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
Fischer-Lichte, Erika
2009 “Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of Being In-Between.” New Theatre Quarterly 25 (4): 391–401.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Friederich, Michael
2007 “Uyghur Literary Translations of Xinjiang Realities.” In Situating the Uyghurs between China and Central Asia, ed. by Ildikó Bellér-Hann, M. Cristina Cesaro, Rachel Harris, and Joanne Smith Finley, 92–104. Burlington: Ashgate.Google Scholar
Gilbert, Helen, and Jacqueline Lo
1996Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics. London: Routledge.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2007Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australasia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Gouanvic, Jean-Marc
2005 “A Bourdieusian Theory of Translation, or the Coincidence of Practical Instances: Field, ‘Habitus’, Capital and ‘Illusio’.” The Translator 11 (2): 147–166.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Heilbron, Johan, and Gisèle Sapiro
(eds) 2002Traduction: les échanges Littéraires Internationaux (Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 144). Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
2007 “Outline for a Sociology of Translation.” In Constructing a Sociology of Translation, ed. by Michaela Wolf, and Alexandra Fukari, 93–107. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hung, Eva
2005 “Cultural Borderlands in China's Translation History.” In Translation and Cultural Change, ed. by Eva Hung, 43–64. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Inghilleri, Moira
2003 “Habitus, Field and Discourse: Interpreting as a Socially Situated Activity.” Target 15 (2): 243–268.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Knight, Nick
2006 “Reflecting on the Paradox of Globalisation: China's Search for Cultural Identity and Coherence.” China: An International Journal 4 (1): 1–31.Google Scholar
Knowles, Ric
2010Theatre and Interculturalism. London: Palgrave. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lefevere, André
1998 “Chinese and Western Thinking on Translation.” In Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation, ed. by Susan Bassnett, and André Lefevere, 12–24. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Lei, Daphne P.
2011 “Interruption, Intervention, Interculturalism: Robert Wilson's HIT Productions in Taiwan.” Theatre Journal 63 (4): 571–586.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lipman, Jonathan N.
2006 “A Fierce and Brutal People: On Islam and Muslims in Qing Law.” In Empire at the Margins, ed. by Pamela Kyle Crossley, Helen F. Siu, and Donald S. Sutton, 83–110. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Lo, Jacqueline
2006 “ ‘Queer Magic’: Performing Mixed-Race on the Australian Stage.” Contemporary Theatre Review 16 (2): 171–188.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Lonergan, Patrick
2009Theatre and Globalization: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Marinetti, Cristina
2013 “Transnational, Multilingual and Post-dramatic: Rethinking the Location of Translation in Contemporary Theatre.” In Theatre Translation in Performance, ed. by Silvia Bigliazzi, Paola Ambrosi, and Peter Kofler, 27–37. London: Routledge.[ p. 425 ]Google Scholar
Millward, James A., and Laura Newby
2006 “The Qing and Islam on the Western Front.” In Empire at the Margins, ed. by Pamela Kyle Crossley, Helen F. Siu, and Donald S. Sutton, 113–134. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Min, Tian
2008The Poetics of Difference and Displacement. Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP.Google Scholar
Moukhlis, Salah M.
2010 “Agents of Change, Critical Theory and New Geographies of Postcoloniality.” In Performing Cultural Diversity: Critiquing Postcolonialism, ed. by Khalid Amine, Barry Tharaud, José Manuel Goñi Pérez, and George F. Robertson, 89–110. Tetouan: Abdelmalek Essaadi UP.Google Scholar
Newby, Laura
1996 “Xinjiang: in Search of an Identity.” In Unity and Diversity: Local Cultures and Identities in China, ed. by David Faure, and Tao Tao Liu, 67–81. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.Google Scholar
O’Toole, Emer
2011 “Towards Best Intercultural Practice: An Analysis of Tim Supple's pan-Indian A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Journal of Adaptation in Film and Performance 4 (3): 289–302.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Pan Pan Theatre Company
2006The Playboy of the Western World Dubl in Programme. Dublin 1316 December 2006.Google Scholar
Quinn, Gavin
2009Personal Interview 5 Aug 2009.Google Scholar
Said, Edward
1978Orientalism. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
Sela-Sheffy, Rakefet
2005 “How to be a (Recognized) Translator: Rethinking Habitus, Norms, and the Field of Translation.” Target 17 (1): 1–26.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Shevstova, Maria
1997 “Interculturalism, Aestheticism, Orientalism: Starting from Peter Brook's Mahabharata.” Theatre Research International 22 (2): 98–104.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Simeoni, Daniel
1998 “The Pivotal Status of the Translator's Habitus.” Target 10 (1): 1–48.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2007 “Translation and Society: The Emergence of a Conceptual Relationship.” In On Translation: Reflections, Refractions, Transformations, ed. by Paul St-Pierre, and Prafulla C. Kar, 13–26. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Singleton, Brian
1997 “The Pursuit of Otherness for the Investigation of Self.” Theatre Research International 22 (2): 93–97.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2003 “Interculturalism.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance, ed. by Dennis Kennedy, 628–630. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
St-Pierre, Paul, and Prafulla C. Kar
(eds) 2007On Translation: Reflections, Refractions, Transformations. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
The Playboy of the Western World
2006Dir. Pan Pan Theatre Company. Perf. Xia Zi Xin, Liao Wei, Zhang Wan Kun. Pan Pan: DVD.Google Scholar
2007Dir. Pan Pan Theatre Company. Available at (Accessed 14 April 2010).Google Scholar
Venuti, Lawrence
1998The Scandals of Translation: Towards and Ethics of Difference. London: Routledge.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wolf, Michaela
2007a “Introduction: The Emergence of a Sociology of Translation.” In Constructing a Sociology of Translation, ed. by Michaela Wolf, and Alexandra Fukari, 1–38. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2007b “The Location of the ‘Translation Field’: Negotiating Borderlines between Pierre Bourdieu and Homi Bhabha.” In Constructing a Sociology of Translation, ed. by Michaela Wolf, and Alexandra Fukari, 109–122. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Wolf, Michaela, and Alexandra Fukari
(eds) 2007Constructing a Sociology of Translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.[ p. 426 ]DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Xie, Shaobo
1997 “Rethinking the Problem of Postcolonialism.” New Literary History 28 (1): 7–19.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Yue, Sun, and Zhaohui Wang
2010Personal Interview 25 Nov 2010.Google Scholar
Zatlin, Phylis
2005Theatre Translation and Film Adaptation: A Practitioner's View. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. DOI logoGoogle Scholar