Brian Friel’s Translations in Spain
Victòria Alsina Keith (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) and Marcello Giugliano (Universität Leipzig)
Brian Friel’s play Translations (1981) is set in 1833 in the Gaelic-speaking Irish town of Baile Beag
/ Ballybeg. Although it is written wholly in English, some characters are understood to be
speaking in Gaelic and others in English. The play can be generally defined as a reflection on
languages as symbols and repositories of cultures (in this case the Irish and English ones), on
unequal power relations and on the lack of communication caused by different political
It has had an interesting and changing life in Spain (for a detailed account of it see Gaviña
2011: 351-370): it was first translated into Catalan in 1984, although this version was never
published or performed. In 1988 a double translation of the play was commissioned by a Basque
company, one wholly in Spanish, and the other partly in Spanish and partly in Basque; these
were performed simultaneously during 1988-89 in the Basque country and Navarre with great
success, but also causing controversy because of their political and ideological stance; the
original idea of going on to perform the play in the rest of Spain was not accomplished, as
theatrical agents from other parts of Spain who viewed it claimed it would not be of interest to
their public. In 2001 Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, on a four-day tour in Barcelona, performed
Translations, causing much interest. Finally, a new 2013 Catalan translation toured Catalonia
during the 2013-14 season, and was shown again in Barcelona in 2015, this time with great
success. In their programme, the producers of the play stressed the similarities between the
main themes of the play (“identity, the relationship between language and landscape, the
difficulty of living in harmony, education, the clash between the progress provided by colonizers
and the possible destruction of a culture and a language”) and the current Catalan situation.
In our study, we analyse Friel’s play and its various fortunes in Spain, concentrating
especially on the Catalan context and taking into account how political and ideological
motivations contributed to shaping the translations and causing the different reactions they
Friel, Brian. 1981. Translations. London: Faber and Faber.
Gaviña Costero, María. 2011. Érase una vez en Ballybeg: La obra dramática de Brian Friel y su
repercusión en España. Valencia: Universitat de València, Servei de Publicacions.
Key words: translation and ideology, translation and postcolonialism, minority languages,
translation into Catalan