Translator Catherine Boyle on ‘Mad Man Sad Woman’

For our latest interview we chatted with Catherine Boyle, translator of Mad Man Sad Woman. Here’s what she had to say:


If you could describe Mad Man Sad Woman in three words what would they be?

Increasingly perturbing and powerful.


Why this play? Why now?

I have known the work of Juan Radrigán since the early 1980s, when I first came into contact with Chilean theatre. Although Radrigán would always deny it, I think his writing during the Pinochet regime (1973 – 90) was brave, naming the brutality of poverty and exclusion in what came to be seen as the ‘economic miracle’ of neo-liberalism. What he was naming was the social cost of that ‘miracle’. What is remarkable is not that the play is overtly political, but that it is about human dignity of the characters, the search for love and life, and the ability of the voiceless to express the reality they are living. In El loco y la triste / Mad Man Sad Woman – as in Las Brutas / Beasts, which we produce in 2011 – it is as if we are living the moment that the characters find the words to express and live something that has been missing from their lives. It is a fleeting and abject moment, but one of great poetic power. Why now? More than anything because it is a great play, evocative and moving with great moments of heart-breaking honesty. And sadly, it speaks to aspects of our reality in devastating and troubling ways.


How did you get into theatre translation?

I got into theatre translation because of my desire to share what I was learning and studying as an academic with other people, especially with those who could bring the plays to life again in new contexts. In my studies in Chile and other parts of Latin American, I was gathering manuscripts and information about wonderful theatre that was unknown across national borders. I did not want to be a type of ‘bottle neck’ of knowledge, and as someone who works in the study of languages, literatures and cultures, I see myself as a cultural mediator. In that sense, the impulse is to share, to try to make sure that work that is made to be performed found new audiences. In the project Out of the Wings, set up in 2008, the idea has been to create an environment for the sharing and performance of Spanish and Spanish American plays, and, latterly, to worth with a collective of translators, directors, actors, producers and researchers to get the work know and performed; to ‘unplug’ the bottleneck (


What do you enjoy most about it?

What I enjoy most is being part of a process of bringing work to life again. Theatre translation is a collective process in which a dramatic text recreated for the stage through a chain of engagements – sometimes consecutive, sometimes simultaneous and always multiple – of a creative team. This means that the translator is never alone beyond the first stage of textual translation, a stage I see as the preparation of the text for the rehearsal process. The joy then, in the process we follow with Head for Heights, is working with the director and actors to find out what is in the text, what the text is doing, and I am travelling constantly between the original text and the new play. The question is always: where does the play belong in this continuum? It has to belong here and now, but I always want the thread that takes us back to where it came from to be present. I want the connections to be alive as we remake and question what is suggested in the text. Theatre translation is always in movement, it doesn’t settle, its meanings and resonances constantly being recreated and challenged; never more so than with Mad Man Sad Woman.


What is the most important step when translating a play?

There are a whole series of really important steps along the way in translating a play. I see my first and most important step as delivering the information for the actor. This is about translating in order to contain the action of the text, to understand the work that the words are doing. This is not to fix the text or to close down ideas or interpretation: it is, for me, the key step in rooting the text so that it is robust enough to resist questioning, challenge, and change; being brought across to a new time, a new place, new voices, context and audience. Each step then in workshopping the text and rehearsing it for performance can then build confidently on the work that has been done in that first step.


Any advice for anyone looking to go into translating for the stage?

Theatre translation is a very difficult field for a number of complex reasons, and it’s very difficult for the vast majority to make a living. That said, it is also a field of translation that is in ascendancy, with a really healthy number of translators from a number of languages working across the country and producing great. My advice is to seek out the groups that are working in the field, look for the very lively rehearsed readings scene in a place like London, find workshops where people share practice (we’re sharing some of that work in our post-show discussion on 29 June, and running a workshop at The Space on Friday 7 July). Above all, look for and share great plays, and believe that great plays will find their time!


And finally – what makes the man mad and the woman sad?

I think that it’s the same thing, really: they have both reached a place, in this desolate soon-to-be-bulldozed wasteland, when they can name what they have never been able to find in their lives. They both have a sense, as Radrigán repeatedly said of his characters, that they are living on the outskirts of life, not in the centre, and finally they create a place that is theirs. It’s the way they live that realisation that makes the mad man mad and the sad woman sad.


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