Pearls before swine

Vicente Carballido has Ctrl-C/V-ed a piece by Anna Rosa Cisquella, exec producer at theatre company Dagoll Dagom. Cisquella is frustrated by the relative lack of success of their excellent production of Boscos endins, the translation into Catalan of Sondheim and Lapine’s Into the woods. A birdie unassociated with the production tells me that the show only averaged around 50% of capacity during its run at the Victoria, roughly a fifth of which consisted of schoolchildren bussed in.

Cisquella blames this comparative failure on the idea that going to a show in Catalan has regrettably become associated with performing a patriotic duty. This is a bit rich coming from her–Dagoll Dagom has profited substantially from the rich flow of subsidies generated by the idea that the provision of culture in Catalan constitutes a sacrifice to the nation. However, all withering of national sentiment aside, given a choice the inhabitants of city that defines itself as around 80% principally Spanish-speaking will tend to opt for cultural products that reflect that fact. Choice has been grossly impeded in the theatre world by the exclusion of Spanish-language theatre from subsidies and by the frustration of access to public spaces, but the message from cinema ticket and book sales is perfectly clear: Spanish-language culture has a massively larger cultural base in Barcelona, and that has nothing to do with barretinas or flags.

This means that if you want to put on something in Catalan, however large your subsidies, you need to carefully consider the reduced public you’re dealing with. And the number of spectators leaving the hall at the interval was a clear indication that Into the woods went a long way beyond this particular public’s capacity for comprehension and enjoyment. Broadly speaking, successful (musical) theatre here in either language is stupid and crude because that’s what the audience likes. A prime example of this is the eternal hit, Cómeme el coco, negro: slowly-paced, poorly-executed vulgarity based on racial stereotypes, and reason enough to want to swap species. Another is the spectacularly dumbed-down version of Ibsen’s Ghosts (aka Espectres) currently at the Romea, which sensibly combines subsidies with pseudo-intellectual commercial appeal. Don’t mention the Poliorama, please. The Nacional seems to have a fondness for new work written with other writers in mind, but we don’t go there either. London has a very large theatre-going public with reasonably sophisticated taste and a decent knowledge of the works of the brothers Grimm, but Into the woods has always struggled even there.

Divine intervention meant that we saw the show for next to nothing a couple of times, and, apart from some dodgy singing, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But I think Dagoll Dagom were naive if they expected to achieve very much at all with Into the woods in Catalan in Barcelona. No amount of extra subsidies can fix that. I wonder if Dagoll Dagom aren’t suffering a bit from that old Brecht thing of the government wanting to dissolve the people and elect another.

I sincerely hope that I’m not reincarnated as a translator of musicals. “Boscos endins” on a rising scale is already a bit of a jawbreaker, but when it comes as the falling scale that closes the circle it’s a complete bugger. But it’s the key phrase, and there’s no realistic alternative.

Video of the prologue with the original Broadway cast:

… which provided substantial inspiration for the DD staging. Here’s their TV ad:


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