When the Traverse Theatre's artistic director Orla O'Loughlin touched
down in Montreal in September of this year to take part in an
international exchange between Scots and Quebecois playwrights, one of
the first things she saw was a Saltire hanging from a city centre
balcony. A week after the referendum on Scottish independence, feelings
were still raw.
Edinburgh's new writing theatre had spent referendum night itself
presenting their production of John McCann's play, Spoiling, which
imagined the Realpolitik behind an independence win as Scotland's first
minister of international affair prepared her maiden speech. The
Traverse also hosted an informal presentation of David Greig's
independence-themed Twitter plays. As the referendum result became
clear, however, the next night of Spoiling was by all accounts an even
more emotional affair.
It was against this backdrop that O'Loughlin arrived in Montreal with
Scottish writers Rob Drummond, Douglas Maxwell and Morna Pearson for a
weekend of readings at the city's Theatre La Licorne. Drummond's play,
Quiz Show, Maxwell's A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity, The Artist Man
and the Mother Woman by Pearson and Most Favoured by David Ireland were
all seen and heard in new Quebecois translations.
“The referendum was the first thing people wanted to talk to us about,”
says O'Loughlin. “We met people in Montreal who had travelled to
Scotland for what they thought would be a celebration, but who returned
despondent. In that context, some of the plays we took there became
redefined as something political, so with The Artist Man and The Mother
Woman, which is about a domineering mother and her son, you started
thinking about a big nation bullying a smaller one next door, and it
made you think about this relationship in a different way.”
This week, the second half of the exchange will take place in
Edinburgh, when artistic director of Theatre La Licorne, Jean-Denis
Leduc, will similarly present performed readings of three new Quebecois
plays in English translation. The programme will feature works by
leading Quebecois writers, Fabien Cloutier, Catherine-Anne Toupin and
Francois Archambault, which will all be directed by Theatre La
Licorne's assistant artistic director, Philippe Lambert.
“Like Scotland,” says Leduc, “Quebec is a nation next to a big strong
neighbour. We are proud about what we are and what our theatre and
culture is. We have big spaces like you have the Highlands, and we talk
about identity. All of these things are part of our theatre and what
our playwrights talk about.”
The theatrical relationship between Scotland and Quebec has long been a
fertile one, ever since Michel Tremblay's highly poetic works started
being seen in Scots translations by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay.
While The Guid Sisters was first seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow,
the Traverse produced Tremblay's A Solemn Mass For A Full Moon in
Summer as well as Ella Wildridge and Tom McGrath's translation of
Stones and Ashes, penned by Tremblay's fellow country-man, Daniel Danis.
Elsewhere, the Stellar Quines company has also focused on Quebecois
drama since their production of Jeanne-Mance Delisle's play, The Reel
of the Hanged Man more than a decade ago. More recently, the company
forged a long-term collaboration with the Quebec-based Imago Theatre
which resulted in Ana, a new bi-lingual play co-written by Clare Duffy
and Pierre Yves Lemieux. The company also presented an acclaimed
version of Linda Griffiths' audacious play, Age of Arousal, in
co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Since then,
Stellar Quines have also produced two solo plays by Jennifer Tremblay,
The List and Carousel.
The roots of the Traverse's New Writing Quebec programme date back
several years to Philip Howard's artistic directorship of the Traverse.
This was a period when the theatre's then literary manager Katherine
Mendelsohn forged significant international links which have developed
through subsequent managements, from Dominic Hill to O'Loughlin's
Traverse plays already seen in translation at Theatre La Licorne
include Gregory Burke's debut, Gagarin Way, Passing Places by Stephen
Greenhorn and Midsummer by David Greig, as well as After The End and
Orphans, both by Dennis Kelly. Rona Munro’s version of Evelyne de la
Cheneliere's play, Strawberries in January, meanwhile, was a Herald
Angel winning hit at the Traverse.
“When I walked into Theatre La Licorne's brand new space two years ago
was uncanny,” O'Loughlin says. “The theatre is modelled on the
Traverse, with two performing spaces like ours, and a big long bar.
They have this real commitment to the work of the Traverse as well, so
to see them sometimes programme two plays a year that have been on at
the Traverse first was really quite moving.”
Whatever the bricks and mortar of Theatre La Licorne, for Leduc,
producing new work in a country as independently minded in spirit as
Scotland has been affected by its own political situation.
“Before and during our referendums we had the same feeling,” he says,
“which was one of excitement about change, which was reflected in our
writing. What's happened since the referendum is that writers are
talking about other things, but that feeling is still with us.
“We've lost two referendums, remember, and it's very sad what's
happened in Quebec since then. We were told we would have more
autonomy, but that never really happened, and we're always searching
for our identity. We talk about those times in our plays, but not like
we did before. Now it is more intimate.”
As the Traverse deals with a damaging eleven per cent funding cut by
Creative Scotland which will jeopardise the amount of work Scotland's
new writing theatre can programme, New Writing Quebec is a significant
international collaboration for both parties.
“The will from both the Traverse and Theatre La Licorne to collaborate
is so strong,” says O'Loughlin. “We want to put on Quebecois work here
and see Traverse plays done in Quebec, but there may also be scope for
doing something brand new between us.”
Leduc is equally enthusiastic.
“It will be a meeting and a reunion,” he says of this week's programme,
“and there will be further collaborations, I hope. When we open our
minds like that, we can go further and further. This relationship
between the Traverse and Theatre La Licorne is part of the dramaturgy
we need to do to make great theatre.”
New Writing From Quebec, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 18-20.
New Writing From Quebec – At A Glance
Three new plays will be presented on consecutive nights in a series of
script-in-hand readings in Traverse Two directed by Theatre La
Licorne's assistant artistic director Philippe Lambert.
Billy (The Days of Howling) – Written by Fabien Cloutier and translated
by Nadine Desrochers, this is piece questions the reliability of
narrators and the complexities of living up to the high standards we
often set for ourselves and others. A rising star in the Quebec theatre
scene, Cloutier is an actor, playwright and author of eight plays. His
first solo show, Scotstown won the Coup de coeur at Zoofest in the 2010
Just For Laughs Festival. The play's sequel, Cranbourne, was a finalist
for the Michel Tremblay Prize.
Right Here, Right Now – Written by Catherine-Anne Toupin and translated
by Christopher Campbell, this play looks at a family coming to terms
with grief. Toupin is a well-known actress in Quebec who has written
three full length plays, and many short plays, which have all been
produced. She spends most of her time acting, both on stage and on
screen while also working as a script editor for a television show she
created, called Boomerang.
You Will Remember Me – Written by François Archambault and translated
by Bobby Theodore, this play looks at a modern family under pressure
and in search of redemption. Archambault has written more than twenty
plays which have been translated and staged across the world. His play,
15 Seconds, was seen in at the Traverse Theatre in a version by Isabel
Wright, while You Will Remember Me looks set to be adapted for screen.
The Herald, November 18th 2014