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It’s not you, it’s the economy: bilingual play explores why breaking up is still so hard to do

Yvan and Else
11:09 03/09/2018

Economics gets emotional in a new production premiering in Brussels this month – and unusually for professional theatre in the capital, it’s being performed in English. It’s based on the writer’s experience of an unpleasant break-up, and the artistic team hope it will start a trend of performances for an English-speaking audience.

Yvan & Else: Bank of God is the story of a relationship ending, but it looks beyond the two protagonists to explore the external influences that are always present, as well as broader ruptures in society. “It’s never just about two people who couldn’t make it work,” says lead actor Yannick De Coster. “The economy puts so much pressure on people.”

The play, by Laurent Plumhans, was written in French; while most of the run will be performed in French, in recognition of the capital’s international make-up there will be three performances entirely in English. If the adapted show is a success, De Coster hopes it will be the first of many. But it’s a decision that has brought its own challenges.

“We had several read-through sessions, over a couple of years, with the idea of performing it in English as well as French,” says De Coster. Friends from Spain, Hungary and elsewhere were invited to give feedback. “They were so enthusiastic at the idea of having professional theatre finally played in English. In Brussels if you go and see a professional performance, it’s almost always in the national languages, and even if there are surtitles they will also be in French or Dutch. We asked around and there was a lot of demand.”

'English and French are such different languages'

Linguistically and theatrically, a direct translation from the French to English wasn’t going to cut it, he explains. “English and French are such different languages: different rhythm, pronunciation, accent, there’s a different music to it. If you do a direct translation it comes out differently and it sounds fake.” An American voice coach advised on the language, and the cast made their own suggestions about the words and the flow.

Belgian De Coster’s native languages are French and Dutch, and the international artistic team includes Swiss, Dutch, French, Spanish and Italian. What changes for an actor when you portray the same character in another language? “Changing the language brings a different colour to a scene, and it shows how many interpretations of a text there can be,” he says. “When I’m acting in French, I think a lot more than when I’m performing in English. In French, I have more time to reflect on how I’m playing the character, which isn’t always positive!”

The actors are supported by a musical controller, with the soundtrack almost a character in its own right. “The music is really important to the performance,” says De Coster. “The controller adds extra music where it’s needed. Normally it’s frustrating to have to learn a script set to music, because the performance has to be exactly the same every time. Here, we play it how we feel in the moment and she’s there to add the right accent and tension with the right musical element.”

Yvan & Else: Bank of God, Théâtre Poème, 30 Rue d’Ecosse
12-30 September; English performances on 13, 20 and 27 September

Written by Sally Tipper