The Traverse Theatre‘s Festival audiences in 1984 and 1986 will remember the plays .S'antlra/Manmt and Albertine In Five Times: but may have been surprised that both came from the same pen. Both engage in unusual forms ofcharacter analysis. the first through interwoven monologues from two diametrically opposed figures (a nun and a drag artist). the second through five simultaneous portrayals of the same woman at different stages of her life. The plays‘ most significant common theme is internalised anger. As Albertine says. ‘words can't describe the impotence of rage'.
The playwright Michel Tremblay does not sound an angry man (indeed. he is remarkably affable towards foreign journalists who telephone him at midnight). but he does speak of a development in the course ofhis working life. ‘When I was a young writer I used to judge society in a very aggressive way.‘ he explains. ‘In the seventies I wrote plays about identity crisis. Now perhaps more about the individual. more introspective.‘
This ‘identity crisis‘ is not simply a personal one. 'l‘remblay is also talking about national identity. Born in Montreal. he belongs to the Quebecois culture. which has long sought independence from France. but retains a powerful French influence. ‘We were a silent people before the sixties.‘ he says. ‘but then we decided that we would be something.‘
One of the strongest voices to emerge in Quebec was 'l'remblay‘s. and his first play Les Belles-Suettrs (translated as The (fair! Sisters: though it could also mean sisters-in -law or stepsisters) provoked deep controversy when it was first performed in 1968. ‘There was a scandal about the language .’ says Tremblay. referring not to obscenity or blasphemy. but to the Quebecois dialect in which it was written. sometimes called/mail. a corrupted French word meaning horse-language. which indicates its status among France‘s pedantic linguists. Thus the play's Glaswegian translation by Bill Findlay and Martin Bowman should come closer to the original idiom than former versions in standard English. The earthy vitality which exists in the culture and language ofboth Scotland and Quebec suggests intriguing similarities. which are also explored in Mayfest‘s film season.
Quebec’s cultural rebellion in the sixties is now paralleled by national feeling in the remainder ofCanada where. Tremblay says. there is a ‘cultural overﬂow‘ from the USA More significant to Mayfest audiences who can see The (iuid Sisters at the Tron Theatre. the situation mirrors the resurgence of nationalism currently felt in Scotland.
Les Belles-Shears enjoyed immediate and huge popular success. despite a three-year struggle
to get it performed and misgivings from the management. which
This year Mayfest explores the relationships between Canadian and Scottish culture. with a season of Que’be’cois films. discussions. and work by the outstanding Canadian playwright, Michel Tremblay. Andrew Burnet talked to him in Paris.
'I‘remblay suspects was more concerned with three leading actresses who expressed interest. than with the script itself. The play even went on to become a set text in Canadian schools.
A satirical comedy. it tells the story a woman who wins a million Green Shield stamps. and enlists her friends
to help stick them into books. The infighting which results is a symbol for failure to unite to achieve a common goal. a theme of some resonance to Scotland‘s politicians today. 'l‘remblay stresses. however. that any good work is universal. and does not limit itself to specific issues. 'I love the idea.‘ he says. 'of different
people playing the parts. I saw fourteen productions of my play Bonjmtr La, Bonjour. and they were all very. very different. but all the satne play.
‘I think you write for the theatre because you need to be interpreted by other people. If I was sure exactly what I meant. I would write novels.‘ lle attributes the success of his long-term relationship with director Andre Brassard to the fact that ‘we don't work at the same time. I write. we talk about it. I disappear. I trust him.‘ It is not. however. an entirely comfortable collaboration. ‘Easy —l don‘t know.‘ says 'l‘remblay. ‘but wonderful. yes.‘
Les Belles-Smears has a cast of fifteen women. and Albertine of seven. 'l‘remblay does not like to think he writes ‘better‘ for women. but reveals that he grew up among women. and found it a natural environment. This. together with his overt homosexuality. enabled the young writer to address feminist issues with an understanding most men lack.
Drawing from childhood experience. he based Albertine on his aunt Robertine. who died while the play was in production. He openly expresses a sense of ‘culpability' about artistic exploitation. one which certainly inspired his most recent play. Le Vrai Mum/e." ( The Real War/(1."). Here. the central character is a young playwright who invents a dramatised version of his own family. Eventually. he finds himself in the midst of both real and fictional families. and must ask himself. ‘didl have the right to do that'." Again the play is a structural experiment; again it is rooted in autobiography and self-exposure.
The Real World will also be presented at the Tron during Mayfest. in a production from English-speaking'I’oronto's Tarragon Theatre. translated by John Van Burek and Bill (ilassco. who have presented practically all 'l‘remblay‘s work in [English since 1972.
It's a good opportunity for comparison. which will demomstrate not only the stylistic variety in 'I‘remblay's work. but also the development of his themes. ‘What is very interesting for me.‘ he says. ‘is that here are my first play and my latest play together.‘
(‘anada’s most-produced playwright will visit Scotland for only the third time early in May to see The (ittitl Sisters. and hopes to appear at one or more ofthe Tron's three Scotland Quebec events during Mayfest. He confesses to knowing little of Scottish culture. but promises. ‘if we have the same problems. then yes. we will have things to talk about.‘
:1! the Tron 'l'heatre. ‘I’rungate. 55.3 4.367: The (ittiil Sisters. 27.-lpril——l4 May (not .llun 1);.33 .llay- JJttne. The Real lf’ttt'ltli’, [6—21 .‘lay. .St'ulltttttl Qtteltet‘el‘ettls. 0. l3 .lltt_\'. 2.30pm and 2!) May. It)..i’(lant. See also Film Preview and Listings.
16The List 21 April — 4 May 1989