Creative Commons 4.0 by Jordi Vilaró Berdusan. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

José Francisco Fernández (ed.)

Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, 2020. 230 pp.

ISBN: 8413200857

Raquel Marino states that, traditionally, reviews of the history of Spanish theatre within academic research have focused on productions of Spanish playwrights and paid insufficient attention to translations and performances of works by foreign authors. Marino even talks about the marginalisation of translated theatre, above all with regard to those foreign authors whose plays were premiered during Franco’s dictatorship:

A pesar de que la producción dramática traducida ha sido siempre una parte importante de nuestro teatro, se trata de una sección de la historia teatral de nuestro país tradicionalmente relegada. Y es que podríamos afirmar que la historia del teatro en España se ha escrito pensando en la producción nativa de dramaturgos españoles, como si el nuestro (o cualquier otro teatro) existiera sólo en versión original. Por razones de diversa índole, pero sobre todo por tradición académica, el teatro traducido se ha visto postergado. (358)

Nevertheless, in recent decades a number of doctoral theses and studies have adopted a new approach to foreign theatre translated and performed in Spain. These studies have not only enriched our vision of the foreign author but also enabled us to understand an essential part of the history of our own theatre. Without any doubt whatsoever, the current book, edited by José Francisco Fernández, makes a great contribution in enriching this kind of research.

Samuel Beckett en España presents a very interesting and multifaceted appraisal of the reception of Samuel Beckett’s works in Spain, from the time his plays were premiered to recent theatrical productions.

The book opens with an article by one of the most renowned specialists on the work of Samuel Beckett in our country, Antonia Rodríguez-Gago. In her article “Beckett transcultural y los ‘clásicos’ españoles de Winnie”, Rodríguez-Gago explains the importance of transculturality in Beckett’s plays. According to her, the role of the culture of a specific country in the translation of Beckett’s plays is fundamental, even more if we consider that he is an author who wrote using two different languages: English and French. He also directed some of his plays in both languages, adapting them to the culture of each country where the plays were performed. Rodríguez-Gago takes as an interesting example of transculturality the creative process in the staging of Happy Days by the Spanish theatre company El Canto de la Cabra in Madrid in 1996.

According to Manuel García Martínez’s “La recepción de las obras de Samuel Beckett en Galicia”, Beckett’s plays were performed in Galicia by university theatre groups during the 1960s. These performances were in Spanish since there were no Galician translations of Beckett’s plays until 1976 (Acto sin verbas) and his plays were not performed in Galician until 1982. For García Martínez, the lack of interest in Beckett’s plays in Galicia was due to the philosophical content of his plays and the lack of political commitment of his theatre. The European opening of A Piece of Monologue in Spain at the University of Santiago de Compostela in 1982, which was made possible by the enthusiasm of two English teachers at the university (Manuel Carreira and David Green), deserves specific mention and is one of the most curious and remarkable parts of García Martínez’s article.

In “La introducción de Beckett en los escenarios catalanes”, Núria Santamaría also explores in depth the reception of Samuel Beckett’s plays in Catalonia. She states that the first performances of Beckett’s plays in Barcelona were by “compañías de Teatro de Cámara” (studio theatre companies) from Madrid and that it was not until the end of the 1950s that there was a Catalan translation of a Samuel Beckett play: En attendant Godot (Tot esperant Godot). However, this play was not performed until the end of the 1960s by amateur groups, with no relevant repercussions. The debate over Beckett’s plays between artists and intellectuals in Catalonia was not too different from that in Galicia: in Catalonia the plays were seen as dark and intellectual, without a clear political commitment. Theatre engagé was considered important among independent theatre groups in order to make a difference in comparison with the conventionality and conservatism of official and commercial theatres. This debate increased after Samuel Beckett received the Nobel Prize in 1969 and more voices were raised to situate Beckett at the centre of any theatrical canon. However, there was a problem – as was also the case in Galicia – in that there was not a ready audience for Beckett’s work. As Joseph Maria Flotats pointed out in his conversation with Baltasar Porcel: “El país no está preparado para cosas difíciles” (9). It was thanks to the efforts of certain theatrical groups, such as La Gàbia Teatre, that the flame of Samuel Beckett’s plays was kept alive during that time. In the second part of the article, Santamaría carefully examines the role of this independent group, led by Joan Anguera, in performing Samuel Beckett’s work in Catalonia. When La Gàbia Teatre turned professional in 1979, as Santamaría states, “ya nadie discutía la conveniencia de ofrecerlo [a Beckett] en catalán en teatros convencionales como sucedía en las culturas contiguas”.

In “La censura del teatro de Samuel Beckett en España (1955-1978)”, Olaia Andaluz-Pinedo and Raquel Merino-Álvarez offer a careful analysis of censorship of Samuel Beckett’s plays in Spain during the Franco period. The exhaustive research by these authors on the censorship files located in AGA (Archivo General de la Administración) reveals how Beckett was seen by his censors mostly as a vanguardist and as a polemical and incomprehensible author. Thus, his plays were classified as “aptas para minorías” and the censors allowed their performance in Teatros de Cámara. Most of his plays, though, had no special problems with the censors, an exception being La última cinta de Krapp. Objections to this play were raised because of “morbosidades sexuales, juramentos, extravagancias y anomalías”, according to the censor Rev. Esteban Romero. Andaluz and Merino also point out the importance of Trino Martínez Trives as the main diffuser of Samuel Beckett’s work in Spain.

In “Las traducciones de Esperando a Godot en España”, David Martel analyses the four existing Spanish translations of Esperando a Godot and points out that all of them derive from the same original source: the French version of 1953. Therefore, none of these translations is 100% identical to Beckett’s definitive version of 1970. The conclusion that Martel reaches after studying the four translations (by Pablo Palant, Trino Martínez Trives, Pedro Barceló and Ana María Moix) is that they are not faithful to the original; some of them are quite inaccurate (such as the last one by Ana María Moix) and none contains a critical edition with footnotes or prologue that explains to the reader the meaning of the dramatic action.

As a perfect complement to this article, Carlos Gerald Prager’s “Samuel Beckett, un mal viaje por España: recorrido por las versiones del Godot” also criticises the lack of good Spanish translations of En attendant Godot (Esperando a Godot). He focuses attention on the inexplicable absence of translations of the English version of the play (Waiting for Godot), which Samuel Beckett himself translated in 1970. Gerald Pranger considers that any translation brings new meanings to the original text (transcodification). Moreover, having translations of only one version of a play such as En attendant Godot means renouncing intertextuality and interdiscursivity, especially in a work conceived to be performed. He also criticises the lack of serious studies of the work of Samuel Beckett and provides interesting reasons for this: under Francoism the political commitment of Beckett to the Spanish Republic (and his support for Fernando Arrabal), inaccurate translations and the labelling of his theatre as “absurd”, existentialist or metaphysical, in contrast to the social realism of Bertolt Brecht, who was much more widely accepted among Spanish intellectuals for many years.

The editor of this book, José Francisco Fernández, provides the only reception study of Samuel Beckett not linked to a theatrical work. In “‘Aquí donde reina la justicia’: La recepción de Cómo es de Samuel Beckett”, Fernández focuses on the reception of Samuel Beckett’s novel Comment c’est (Cómo es) in 1961 and reaches the conclusion that this novel can be added to the list of “insufficiently explored” works of the Irish author in Spain. His article is divided into two parts: first, he exposes and comments on the several translations of this novel into Spanish, and second, he analyses the novel itself and its particular “oddity” according to the Spanish values system and how the novel helped to break these values, mainly during the Franco period. This would have been one of the reasons for the “discreet” reception of this work.

Loreto Casado, in “Beckett, Lucky y Deleuze”, returns to Carlos Gerald Pranger’s criticism of the lack of interest in deeply exploring Beckett’s work in Spain. Casado explores the philosophical background to Beckett’s work, with highlights such as the physical universe beyond the words of his characters. Casado finds that the exploration of the concept of “desterritorialización”, which according to Gilles Deleuze defines the literature of Franz Kafka, is also applicable to Beckett’s plays.

Finally, the book closes with two valuable and exhaustive articles by Mar Garre García about all the academic publications and articles on the works of Samuel Beckett in Spain.

As we can see on the various articles in this comprehensive book, the reception of Samuel Beckett’s work in Spain has been irregular, primarily for the following reasons: some suboptimal translations, the lack of a theatrical tradition in some regions (or disruption of a tradition by Francoism), censorship during the dictatorship and a Spanish audience split between the escapist/commercial options on the one hand, and so-called committed theatre, on the other. However, the eclecticism of the 21st century has offered new perspectives and possibilities for the different themes and forms of a theatre so rich and multifaceted as that of Samuel Beckett.

Talking about the theatre of this author, Ricard Salvat said “la paraula en Beckett és un camí cap al silenci” (44). Playing with this statement, we can say that this “silence” on stage has accompanied Beckett’s works in Spain for a long time. Fortunately, the interest in the author and the studies that his works generates are now no longer a “path toward silence”, as this book brilliantly shows.

Works Cited

Merino Álvarez, Raquel. “La historia de las traducciones de teatro inglés en España en el siglo XX: perspectiva desde el proyecto TRACE.” Lengua, traducción, recepción: en honor de Julio César Santoyo. Ed. Rosa Rabadán, Trinidad Guzmán and Marisa Fernández. León: Universidad de León, Área de Publicaciones, 2010, 357-84.

Porcel, Baltasar. “Josep Maria Flotats ‘comedien’”. Destino, 1717 (29 agosto 1970).

Salvat, Ricard. El teatre contemporani. Vol 2. Barcelona: Edicions 62, 1966.