“It’s probably more entertaining when you can understand what’s going on.”
This thought has doubtlessly occurred to many theatre-goers, especially if they've had to sit blankly through the uproarious laughter of other audience members and deal with the frustration of having completely missed the joke.
|A scene from Anything You Want.|
(Copyright Emmanuel Murat)
But missing out because of the language barrier is not an inevitable experience – translation, if done well, can make a big difference between enjoyment and befuddlement at the theatre. One just has to attend a show in Paris of the hit comedy Tout Ce Que Vous Voulez (Anything You Want) to understand how elevating subtitling, or "surtitling", can be.
As the play unfolds in French, the dialogue is projected in English on the horizontal bar high above the stage, with French colloquialisms and idioms transformed into the equivalent expressions. This is of great assistance to English-speakers, as could be seen from the reactions of a group of New Yorkers on one particular night. The visitors were able to chortle right along with the Francophone viewers and to clap with real enthusiasm at the end, because the brilliance of the play wasn’t lost in translation, or incomprehension.