Despite having been around for only a few years, Nine Years Theatre has carved out its own niche: staging Mandarin versions of classic Western works. Co-founders (and husband and wife) Nelson Chia and Mia Chee believe the cross-cultural experience is more accessible to many Singaporeans.
They’ve already translated Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men and Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. This month, it’s the turn of Tartuffe by French playwright Molière, a tale about a fraud who tries to trick his way into marriage. Here, he tells Gwen Pew more about the company and its upcoming performance.
Chia decides on Nine Years’ plays based on his actors: ‘There isn’t a strict criteria for the company’s choice of plays. However, as an actor-centred company, we are concerned with the development of the actors’ art. As such, the choice of our play would have to firstly allow for that development.’
He compares translating a work to creating a new one: ‘I translate these works as if I am writing a play for the stage. In other words, my concern is whether the translation serves the purpose of an effective performance. Perhaps that’s how I balance all the elements of language and meaning in translation – by going beyond the literal and focusing instead on the performative.’
He first came across Tartuffe during his university days: ‘The play struck me because the themes of hypocrisy and blind faith are still very relevant to the current society we live in.’ The most difficult thing about translating Tartuffe was the language: ‘It was originally written in French – and I don’t read French – and there are many versions of English translations that are vastly different in style and tone.’
He’s not ruling out an original production one day, but that’s not a priority: ‘We won’t be doing that in the near future. I feel that it’s important for a new company to be very focused in the beginning.’
Tartuffe is at Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore from Feb 4-8.