UK Premiere for Theatre Professor's Translation

"The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents," by Lukas Barfuss, translated by Neil Blackadder

September 13, 2007

Neil BlackadderBritish theatre critics are praising the new production of a play, "The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents," translated from German by Knox College theatre professor Neil Blackadder. The play received its British premiere August 31 at the Gate Theatre in London.

The Guardian newspaper wrote that the "fluid production is alert to the subtleties of Neil Blackadder's translation" of the 2003 original by Swiss playwright Lukas Barfuss.

The play, tagged as "horribly compelling" by the Times of London, is about a teenager, Dora, who rebels against the sexual mores of her parents, when they stop giving her medication for unspecified mental problems.

"Dora's uninhibited, un-self-conscious, appetite-driven behavior brings to the fore the confusion, neuroses and double standards of her parents and the other adult characters," Blackadder said.

The Guardian calls the show "a dashing statement [and] an intriguing play," while the Evening Standard praises it as "a fine production." The show was also noted in reviews by the British Theatre Guide, The First Post, and TheatreWorld.

Blackadder has been translating contemporary German and French plays into English for several years -- "The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents" is the fifth that he has undertaken. In February, he will direct a Knox production of the English language world premeire of his translation of "Rosa and Blanca," by German playwright Rebekka Kricheldorf.

"I have selected plays that are different enough in style or content from most drama being written in English to be striking to potential directors, but are not so embedded in a different cultural context that it would be hard for directors or audiences to relate to them," Blackadder explains.

Blackadder said his greatest challenge was retaining the unusual quality of the play's language.

"In a sense, 'The Sexual Neuroses of our Parents' is a family drama, yet stylistically it doesn't correspond with that model," Blackadder said. "This is a world in which people say things you wouldn't expect them to, and speak in a manner that, rather than simply replicating how we speak in everyday life, sort of runs parallel to it. There's a certain lack of naturalism in the original, and I had to resist the temptation to make the English less odd."

Blackadder said he deliberately prepared two translations, one in American-English and one in British-English ? the version used for the London production.

"I've had an intensive e-mail exchange with the director, Carrie Cracknell. It has been an interesting process, since Carrie was able to tell me how the language sounded when spoken by the actors in auditions and rehearsals."

The Gate Theatre is one of London's longest-established, most highly regarded "fringe" theatre venues, and the only London theatre dedicated to producing international work. "The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents" is the debut production by the theatre's new team of co-artistic directors, Cracknell and Natalie Abrahami.

A member of the Knox faculty since 1998, Blackadder teaches theatre history, dramaturgy, playwriting, criticism and performance theory. One of his earlier translations, "Oswald and Zinaida," by French playwright Jean Tardieu, was performed at Knox in 2001 and published in 2005 in the journal Absinthe: New European Writing. In 2006 he directed the Knox production of "Nora," Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of "A Doll's House," by Henrik Ibsen, and in 2005 he directed his translation of Arthur Schnitzler's "Round Dance."

Blackadder says his work in theatre translation is a major influence on both his teaching and his directing.

"That will be especially true this year, when I direct my new translation Rebekka Kricheldorf's 'Rosa and Blanca'," Blackadder said. "When students and actors know that certain choices have been and are being made about precise wording, it reinforces the complex and vital relationship between the verbal and the non-verbal."

Blackadder's book, "Performing Opposition: Modern Theatre and the Scandalized Audience," published in 2003, examines European plays that initially provoked objections from audiences. His translation of "The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents" will be published in the United States and Great Britain by Nick Hern Books of London.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 44 nations. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.


Neil Blackadder