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Alan Ayckbourn on Viennese Stages: The Reception of his Plays and Processes of Cultural Transfer Involved

Anita Gritsch

The plays of Sir Alan Ayckbourn - one of the most productive contemporary British playwrights, as it is widely agreed - have been staged with varying intensity in Viennese theatres over the past four decades. Although his work, consisting of mostly comedies and farces as well as a number of children's plays, could generally be said to be set in an English middle class-context, it has been translated into more than 40 languages and been honoured with numerous international awards. This may seem surprising, considering the fact that, apart from a few exceptions, all of it is initially written for entertaining an audience of Scarborough holidaymakers on rainy afternoons and evenings. The entertainment he offers, however, may not be as light as some critics argue, as it takes a close look at relationships and human flaws.

In relation to the body of his work on one hand, and to his success on West End and German stages, on the other, the number of plays Viennese audiences were presented with only ads up to 15 since his début in here in 1967, at the Akademietheater. The plays selected for stages in the rest auf Austria, however, show to be different, to some extent, from those performed in the Austrian capital. Moreover, there appears to be a fairly large time lag between the London premiere of the individual plays and their production in Austria. Additionally, it seems interesting that of the four plays had their German language premiere on Viennese Stages half were children's plays.

These intriguing facts exemplify some of the cornerstones of the project concerned with the reception of Ayckbourn's plays on Vienna's stages. To get a clearer perception of the significance of the reactions by Viennese audiences and critics, the material will be set against the backdrop of reviews on the West End premieres of the same plays; furthermore, it will also be compared to responses to performances of his plays on other Austrian stages and, where appropriate, in major German theatres. Using reviews and features in newspapers and theatrical magazines as one source of information, and theatre statistics, seasonal play schedules, interviews and scientific articles as another, the primary task here is to consolidate the data in order to analyse the dynamics governing the selection of plays.

The project, however, does not stop at the surface of critics' and audiences' responses: it attempts to dig deeper and unearth some of the underlying processes of cultural transfer and the forces at work within the field of cultural production. Bourdieu and Lüsebrink stand as the theoretical pillars in this task. From the first, the theory of the cultural, and, more precisely, the literary field, has been selected as the most appropriate tool for the present purpose; the latter provided an up-to-date framework for the analysis of cultural transfer, in this case of the translation and transposition of Ayckbourn's work into German and onto Austrian stages. Further attention will be devoted to the translation of a selection of plays, a task which proves to be a feat in the face of not only linguistic, but also cultural specifics. The way in which word-plays, ambiguities, comic elements and references to particularly English cultural phenomena are transferred into German will therefore be scrutinized in selected examples.

Distinguishing the processes of selection, translation/mediation and reception, the project aims to provide a thorough analysis of and guide to a clearer understanding of the particulars of Ayckbourn's plays on Viennese stages.


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