Monday, 26 July 2010

Frank Wedekind in English


‘Exclusively Independent’ is an Arts Council-funded scheme aimed at bringing independent bookshops and independent publishers together. A worthy cause, if ever I heard one. Initially based in London bookshops, the scheme has been so successful it is now featured in a number of outlets nationwide. A novella I translated from the German, Wedekind’s Mine-Haha, was one of the featured titles in the last promotion. I was asked to describe how I stumbled across this text.

At the heart of a forest lies a mysterious girls’ boarding school, cut off from the outside world by a great wall and barred gates. Within, a group of youngsters gather round a small coffin, from which emerges a new pupil, Hidalla…

Frank Wedekind (1864–1918) has always fascinated me. He seems like a man born out of his time. You look at photos of him taken a hundred years ago singing self-composed songs to his own accompaniment and you think of Bob Dylan in his grizzled later incarnations. So it was fitting that I was led to Mine-Haha by one of the grandes dames of rock’n’roll, Marianne Faithfull. In her latest volume of memoirs she writes about Wedekind’s strange novella, speculating on similarities to her own upbringing among the Braziers Park community and regretting that it had never been translated into English. Here was my cue. I had already translated Franziska, one of Wedekind’s lesser-known plays, for a production at London’s Gate Theatre, so I was no stranger to his bizarre world. What encouraged me is how others feel at home there too. As I worked on the text, I discovered Innocence, the beautiful French film version of Mine-Haha. Then the Broadway rock musical Spring Awakening opened in London; not my cup of tea (I’m more of a Sondheim man) but young audiences went wild for it. In summer 2009 Lulu, Berg’s opera based on two Wedekind plays, was revived at Covent Garden. And as I write, Wedekind has just hit the London stage yet again, with emergent director Anna Ledwich bringing her adaptation of the Lulu plays to the Gate Theatre in June.

In Mine-Haha, his most substantial prose text, Wedekind rehearses the concerns of his dramas – childhood, education, sexual awakening, the status of women – in concentrated fairytale form. I think its time has come.

Frank Wedekind on MySpace

First published on the Exclusively Independent Blog

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