An interesting approach to a new work in the Adelaide Fringe is to have an algorithm write it for you. Lost in Translation, produced in a 2022 return season by Braw Media, sees the cast take iconic early 2000s film scripts, truncate them to an hour, launder them through Google Translate several times, and present the result as if at a public reading of a new work.

The audience, tightly packed in the basement venue of Rhino Room’s Drama Llama theatre, is primed for a cut-down version of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film adaptation of JRR’s Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Asked whether they have seen the source material, they all reply that they have. Except the person at the back, to whom MC and narrator Aaron Finan calls out: “Good luck”.

On a cramped stage, seven performers read scripts at microphones as they grapple with the mistranslation, the unexpected innuendo, and the various non-sequiturs within this mangled text.

At its best, the production shines when actors attempt to deliver the lines in character and stay close to the drama of the actual film. This enables the audience to imagine the original cast grappling with such a task. It struggles to maintain momentum, though, when performers try to ad-lib away from the script and riff on its absurdities.

One could almost imagine a fully realised production called “Fernando Bag-Ins and the Circle-Mates” – replete with scenery, effects, scoring and costume – that in Ionesco-like fashion would have the performers play scenes deadpan with total dramatic belief.

The best gags are when Tolkien’s own linguistic grandiosity is undermined by the mistranslation. Much of the dialogue adopts a curiously financial or business-centric twist, with enjoyable one-liners such as (sic) “Sharon of More Doors is your manager now, Saruman”, and “let us access the hospitality industry of Mariah Carey”. Among other favourites was the quip “these walls are inscribed with the runes of Elvis”, which makes you wonder how the word “Elvish” translates into Maori or Greek.

However, you can’t help question whether some jokes are genuine mistranslations or simply added attempts by the company to inject humour into the script. Did Google Translate really convert the “Mines of Moria” into “Maria Carey’s career”? And while some innuendo is mildly entertaining, it suggests a needless lack of confidence in the production’s clever central premise.

If you can handle the treasured films of your youth being butchered by ham-fisted translation algorithms designed to interpret international contracts, Lost in Translation is for you. It is a lively evening of aphasic fun.

Lost in Translation plays at the Drama Llama in the Rhino Room until March 5. Each night focuses on a different film, with the line-up including Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Chicken Run and Harry Potter.

Gianluca Noble is the second recipient of the Helpmann Academy InReview Mentorship. He is working with experienced writers Murray Bramwell (theatre) and Jane Llewellyn (visual arts) to write a series of articles for publication in InReview.

 Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.