Between forgiving and forgetting
KARACHI: The Urdu version of Tom Wright’s play Lorelei performed by Sania Saeed at the Arts Council Karachi on Friday night was different from its English counterpart in more ways than one, first of which, of course, was the translation of the English text.
Before that, a reminder of the story (based on actual events) in a nutshell: in 1992 a six-year-old boy Jeremy was killed by a paedophile named Ricky Langley. When Jeremy’s mother, Lorelei Guillory, finds out about the troubled history of the killer, she starts contemplating the vagaries of life in a manner that she might not have if revenge was the only thing on her mind.
Now back to Sania Saeed’s interpretation of the play. Translations, in the literary world, have always been a subject of fierce debate. Some argue that a translated work of poetry or fiction should be faithful to the language in which it was first produced. Others are of the opinion that it should be aesthetically equivalent to the text in which it was originally written, which means that it should capture the spirit of the subject rather than be faithful to the medium. Both points of view have their pros and cons. Sania’s attempt sounded truer to Tom Wright’s words, but with the kind of emotional investment in the script which makes art reflect life as if there’s not much difference between the two.
It was judicious of her not to toy with words like ‘barbiturates’ because translating it in Urdu would have made the sentence in which it was used come across like a pedantic exercise.
The other thing which was done (slightly) differently from Thursday’s performance was the movements of the actor. It does not take long for the actress to leave the sofa to break the visual monotony of the plot. Also, as soon as she, while recounting the horrific episode, mentions the age of the child, her tone shifts from matter-of-fact simple narration to intense storytelling.
This does not remain consistent, though. When she switches her position from down-centre to centre-stage in order to inform the audience on Ricky Langley’s past, she suddenly takes a dispassionate route, because, at that juncture, she is merely stating facts. These facts, however, are the most important bits of the whole tale on which she builds her arguments for feeling a sense of forgiveness (not entirely, mind you) and at the same time not forgetting what happened to her child and the hazards of seeing the murderer out of jail.
Lorelei is not an easy undertaking. Yes, the language (both English and Urdu) is simple to the point that at times the play does not seem like a play but a piece of well-edited reportage. But it is the question that the makers of Lorelei raise which is not easy to answer.
It was nice of the whole team behind the play to dedicate Friday’s and the upcoming performances of Lorelei to the eminent playwright and actor Syed Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, who passed away on Thursday, Dec 17.