Found in translation
Catherine Grosvenor and Lorne Campbell tell Mark Fisher why Cherry Blossom is a production that’s Poles apart
What does the word ‘collaboration’ make you think of? Director Lorne Campbell thought he knew until he tried it for himself. ‘You think of something cosy and cuddly,’ he says. ‘But this has been really hard. We’re still friends, still happy and excited, but people pull in different directions and there’s lumps and there’s bumps.’
Sitting beside him in the Traverse bar, playwright Catherine Grosvenor says collaboration makes her think of the Nazis and it’s hard to know how much she’s joking. Certainly there’s no animosity between the two of them today as they enthuse about Cherry Blossom and their partnership with the go-getting design team of Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer, aka 59 Productions, veterans of Black Watch and the youngest ever associates of the National Theatre in London.
‘Normally no one tells you what to write or how to write it,’ says Grosvenor, the Edinburgh-born author of 2005’s One Day All This Will Come to Nothing. ‘In this one, the subject matter was laid out, we had ideas of style and there was an understanding of the direction it was going in. I feel I’ve been working back to front and upside down. I’ve got to the emotional bit and the storytelling now, but I had a year of reading sociology and chatting to Poles.’
Rather than start off with a script, the four of them came together to discuss an idea – the successive waves of Polish immigration into Scotland – and collaborated on research, interviews and a number of trips to Poland. Grosvenor wrote the play – the story of one family of Polish immigrants – in response to this work, but the production will also be enriched by verbatim interviews and the visual input of the designers. ‘You can feel the presence of more than one imagination,’ says Campbell.
The creative work didn’t stop there. A co-production with Teatr Polski from the town of Bydgoszcz, Cherry Blossom features two Scottish actors (John Kazek and Sandy Grierson) and two Polish actors (Marta Scislowicz and Malgorzata Trofimiuk) all of whom have to speak in both languages. Thanks to the computer wizardry of 59 Productions, there’ll be translations projected all over the set, so speakers of either tongue will be able to keep up. ‘The whole stage is projection surfaces,’ says Grosvenor, who studied German and Polish at Cambridge University. ‘But it’s amazing how much you can understand when you don’t understand a word.’
A response to the post-2004 wave of immigration to Scotland, the play is an attempt to capture the sense of dislocation created by moving to a new country. If the bilingual performance produces a similar feeling of uncertainty in the audience, the play’s references to the true story of Robert Dziekanski, who died after a 10-hour ordeal of miscommunication in Vancouver airport, will seem all the more poignant. ‘When you step into a new culture, for a moment you lose everything,’ says Campbell. ‘You lose your name, your language and you’re incredibly vulnerable. A lot of the moments in the play are about people not understanding each other.’
Cherry Blossom, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat 27 Sep-Sat 11 Oct.