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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Guid Sisters, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Royal Lyceum
Five stars

Kathryn Howden in The Guid Sisters
CANDADIAN playwright Michel Tremblay's Les Belles SÅ“urs, translated here as The Guid Sisters, is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, remarkable on many levels. Fifteen women are on stage, all cramming into the working-class Montreal kitchen of Germaine Lauzon, who has won a million Green Shield stamps in a competition – and needs help sticking them in to the books. Tremblay shows great skill in orchestrating such a number, keeping their characters distinct, their banter hilarious, and their private tragedies true.

The play, premiered in 1968, was revolutionary in its use of joual, the Quebec working-class dialect that's been turned into pungent Glaswegian by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay. Even if the use of joual isn't so controversial now, the play retains its political clout. On the one hand, the women are restrained by their Catholic faith; on the other, they are teased by capitalism's get-rich-quick promises. To compensate for the drudgery and repression, they have the dream of a win on the bingo.

Throwing in images of the last supper and a crucified Christ in a superb production for the Lyceum and the National Theatre of Scotland, director Serge Denoncourt grasps not only the play's social context, but also Tremblay's instinct for theatrical poetry. Whether performing a choral rap on the subject of housework, or taking the spotlight for a heartbreaking interior monologue, the women step beyond domestic realism into a more complex dimension.

Leading an exemplary ensemble, Kath Howden plays Germaine like a queen bee, too delighted with herself to see the envy she is arousing, too immersed in her own small victory to see herself as what she is: a victim of a system that cultivates impossible dreams. A closing round of A Man's a Man for a' That, by Burns, reminds us of the hollowness of the consumerist promise.
© Mark Fisher, 2012 (photo: Richard Campbell)

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