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The List - Stellar Quines Go Solo


Stellar Quines are full of surprises. The female-focused theatre 
company who have slowly but surely become a fantastical force in 
Scottish theatre may appear to be shrinking if the size of their new 
show is anything to go by, but in actual fact, the company's artistic 
imagination is more expansive than ever. The last two Stellar Quines 
productions, Age of Arousal and ANA, were big, main-stage affairs that 
looked at sex and sensuality through a woman's eyes via a form of 
magical-realism that defined both plays' Quebecois roots.

The company's new show, The List, which has an Edinburgh Festival 
Fringe run at Summerhall before going out on a brief Scottish tour, is 
also written by a Quebecois playwright. In sharp contrast to the other 
plays, however, Jennifer Tremblay's piece is an intimate work written 
for one actor, who must look the audience full in the face as she 
confesses her role in a neighbour's death. Where ANA took five years to 
reach the stage in a bi-lingual production that opened in Montreal 
before opening in Scotland, Stellar Quines director Muriel Romanes has 
taken a mere six months to get Tremblay's play an English-language 
production.

“It's a beautiful piece of work,” Romanes says as she prepares for 
previews of The List in Peebles. “I picked up on Jennifer's play when 
we were in Montreal with ANA. I kept hearing about it and reading great 
reviews of it, and as soon as I read it I knew I wanted to do it. I 
just love Quebecois work. It's so theatrical and so passionate, and 
there's a real affinity with Scottish work in that way.”

As performed by Maureen Beattie, the new translation of The List itself 
certainly promises much in the passion stakes, however ordinary the 
story may sound.

“I suppose I kind of recognised myself in it, as I think everybody 
will,” Romanes explains. “We spend our whole life making lists of 
things, and up not doing things. This woman is an inveterate list 
maker, and is asked by her neighbour to do something for her, which she 
puts at the top of her list. Then it slips down the list as other 
things come up, and because of this, her neighbour dies, and the play 
is this woman explaining this to us, eye-balling the audience as she 
does so, so she's really in the dock.

“That in itself doesn't sound that theatrical, but it's the text that's 
theatrical. It's called The List, and on the page that's what it looks 
like, and that's how we're doing it as well.”

The story itself came out of Tremblay's experience after she 
effectively exiled herself in an isolated village in Quebec. A 
real-life death rocked the small community she lived among, and 
inspired Tremblay to question how people can cut themselves off from 
each other so easily.

Romanes may downplay The List's theatricality  beyond Tremblay's words, 
but she has nevertheless brought in a crack squad to accentuate Shelley 
Tepperman's translation. As one of the most  fearless and eminently 
watchable performers in the UK, Maureen Beattie's presence in the play 
should be worth the ticket price alone. The play's mood should be 
further heightened by Jeanine Davis' lighting design, as well as a new 
sound score by Philip Pinsky. Stellar Quines have managed something of 
a coup, however, by getting no less a personage than celebrated artist 
and playwright John Byrne to design both set and costumes.

“I first worked with John as an actress when he designed the set for 
The Fantastical Feats of Finn MacCool in 1974,” Romanes remembers of 
one of the lesser sung home-grown epics of its era. A young Romanes 
appeared alongside the likes of Bill Paterson in Kenny (then Ian) 
Ireland's production of Sean McCarthy's play produced by the Young 
Lyceum company at Haymarket Ice Rink in Edinburgh.

Since that very crucial period in Scotland's theatrical history, 
Romanes has been at the forefront of new developments, including 
appearing in the Tron's now legendary Scots translation of Michel 
Tremblay's play, The Guid Sisters, which arguably kicked off the 
Scots/Quebec theatrical alliance. A new production of the play, 
produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, and directed by Serge 
Dennencourt, who directed ANA for Stellar Quines, will open in the 
autumn.

Since co-founding Stellar Quines in 1993, she has provided a crucial 
platform for female artists that has gone beyond any notions of 
box-ticking tokenism to produce major international collaborations. 
While recent funding changes has left the company in an insecure and 
vulnerable position, Stellar Quines plough on regardless. For such an 
established company to be putting on work in such a young venue as 
Summerhall is significant in itself in terms of how willing Romanes is 
to embrace new ways of working. As for the work itself, Stellar Quines 
have ambitious plans to work with brand new 3D technology as well as 
continuing their Rehearsal Room series of readings of new plays, many 
of which have gone on to full production.

“If you work in different spaces,” Romanes observes, “writers are going 
to be influenced by that, and out of that will perhaps come a new way 
of writing plays.

The List, Summerhall, August 3-25, 2pm
www.summerhall.co.uk
The Herald, August 21st 2012

ends

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