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Theatre review: Pinball Collective's Floating Bones brings out the joys of translation

Published on Jul 6, 2014 10:12 AM
Floating Bones. -- PHOTO: FLOATING BONES

Nobel laureate in literature Herta Muller writes predominantly in German, although she is fluent in both German and Romanian. But she has admitted that she would never translate her own work from one language to the other.

In a 2012 speech, she honoured her translator Radka Denemarkova, saying: "The art of translation is looking at words in order to see how those words see the world. Translation requires an inner urgency that will make that which is different as close to the original as possible. Finding this eye-to-eye contact is extremely difficult. It is a great art."

I was reminded of Muller's words during last Friday's performance of the double-bill Floating Bones, which featured two short plays by Singaporean playwrights translated from the Chinese to English, and performed on stage as such for the very first time.

It was a disquieting and lyrical evening of lush imagery and dark, dark humour, featuring Quah Sy Ren's Dragon Bone (2001), where the stories of a fugitive refugee and a young boy experiencing sexual awakening intertwine in an endless cycle of guilt and violence; and Han Lao Da's Floathouse 1001 (1995), a dystopian vision of the future where people are cast off on floating pods because there is no more room on land. The minimalist set-up of The Arts House Play Den becomes a sort of purgatorial wasteland for all these characters, each trapped by their motivations and circumstances.

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