WITH the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival celebrating its first performances in London and Stratford, there’s no denying the great central paradox of Shakespeare’s work; that despite his breathtaking poetic re-invention of the English language, his drama is still not wholly dependent on the presence of that original text.
Instead, it survives and thrives on translation into hundreds of languages; and there is therefore no reason not to translate it into Scots, as Robin Lorimer did. Mike Duffy’s Edinburgh Theatre Arts group now give Lorimer’s text its first full production, featuring a cast of 17, a simple, austere design and a range of performances of great concentration and dignity.
Despite some fine staging ideas, though – particularly around the witches or fates – it’s difficult not to feel, in the end, that Lorimer’s militantly archaic Scots text misses the point about the relationship between Shakespeare’s language and modern Scotland. Shakespeare’s plays are written, after all, not in modern English, but in a language that lends itself just as well – if not better – to Scots, Irish or Welsh voices as to the “received” English in which it is usually performed, and Scottish-voiced actors approaching those original texts with dignity and confidence have a rare opportunity to free some of the greatest poetry ever written from the bounds of conventional pronunciation, as well as to affirm their own direct relationship with it.
Lorimer’s version, by contrast, often sounds like an unnecessary translation into some nearby foreign language. And although its first production represents an interesting and sometimes thought-provoking experiment, it seems to me more like a byway in the long dialogue between Shakespeare and Scotland than a direct route to a better and richer understanding of the world’s best-loved playwright, and his work.