The Guid Sisters – Review by Jennifer Adam
“An energised production with humorous songs and heartfelt honesty.”
The Guid Sisters by Michel Trembly
Translated by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay
Directed by Serge Denoncourt
When Pierre Bernard, then Artistic Director of Montreal’s Theatre de Quat’sous first saw a stage production of Irving Welsh’s Trainspotting in Glasgow in the latter half of the 90s, he was captivated by the play’s dramatic energy and scenes of brutal honesty. Despite only understanding a tenth of the language, Bernard took the stage play to Montreal and commissioned it to be translated into ‘joual’ French – a dialect most associated with working class Montreal.
Similarly, Michel Trembley’s 1968 stage production Les Belles-Soeurs – a play famous for being written in joual French must have struck a similar chord with The National theatre of Scotland who have translated Trembly’s revolutionary play into a strong Glaswegian dialect as the aptly named, The Guid Sisters.
At the time, Trembly refused to write this play in English forcing upper class Quebecois theatre goers to watch, listen and learn about lives of working class Montreal, an attempt to Bridge the gap between cultures and class.
The Guid sisters follows Germaine Lauzon who has just won a million stamps. She must stick every stamp in place in order to exchange the booklets for new furniture and appliances for her small tenement home. Inviting over her two sisters, neighbours and church chums, they get to work, though Germaine, wrapped up in the idea of her new rich world, is unaware that her smug attitude and a sheer longing for a better life has caused her friends to steal her stamps and ultimately rip apart the friendships that had been so important to her. Monologues from several members of the all-female cast offer the audience an insight to their troubled worlds, contradicting the light hearted, contented bravado they portray to one another.
Directed by Serge Denoncourt, one of Canada’s leading directors, he carefully illustrates the lives of working class women in the 60s in Glasgow, while subtly reminding us of the play’s roots. Vital colloquialisms that emphasise the women’s culture, beliefs and identity play a strong part in shaping their characters, yet Denoncourt chose to keep certain Canadian words such as ‘bucks’ instead of quid or referring to the Greater Glasgow area as a Province and of course, retaining the character’s French names. (Hats off to the 15 member cast who remembered and carefully pronounced each name perfectly!)
The play draws upon the contradictions of religion not least as devout Catholics who take the lords name in vain in almost every other line, yet wouldn’t dare to swear, not properly. Or how they can look down at younger sister Pierrette for working in a bar serving alcohol, but think nothing of going to the Bingo to gamble away the little money they have.
In keeping with Trembly’s passion for poetic imagery, their strong Catholicism was emphasised further by a perfect silhouette of the last supper and ended with the ladies approaching a tearful Germaine, one by one singing a beautiful a capella rendition of Burns’s A Man’s A Man For A’ That – a final reminder of the important things in life.
It should have been easy to confuse the many different characters on stage, but Trembly’s writing strikes a chord with every single one, even violent Madame Dubuc. Kathryn Howden as Germaine shines in this part exuding energy in all forms throughout her performance. Special recognition should also be extended to Karen Dunbar’s expectedly exquisite comic timing, but more so for the delivery of her thought-provoking and heart breaking monologue.
This is a fast paced, energised production with humorous songs and heartfelt honesty. And as my American friend – who understood every word – suggested, it’s difficult not to get instantly excited about a play that opens with Lulu’s Shout
See this play at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre until October 13th
The Guid Sisters will then transfer to the King’s Theatre, Glasgow from 23-27 October 2012.