This ambitious project is a bi-national production between the Scottish company Stellar Quines, that specialises in work relevant to women, and Montreal’s Imago Théâtre that specializes in work of social relevance that aims to break down linguistic and cultural barriers. It is a written collaboration between Clare Duffy who is based in Scotland and Pierre Yves Lemieux from Québec.
The play, ‘inspired by the Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna's descent into the Underworld [and her embodiment] of the evolution of womankind in her odyssey through the ages’, had its world premiere in Québec with its European premiere at the Traverse.
The striking set of six giant rectangular prisms that held the various Anas were reminiscent of kaleidoscopes, the child’s toy made of mirrors that changes its patterns and forms as it is turned, creating new and magical worlds in an instant. I can remember the fascination of that and of the hinged dressing table mirrors of yesteryear whose movements created infinite images and in a child’s imagination infinite possibilities. This is what the eponymous Ana can do: split and change as circumstances demand, not just in imagination but in reality. The circus ringmaster announces from the start that all before us is lies and illusion – smoke and mirrors. We were warned.
Ana’s story starts on the Isle of Skye and goes through Revolutionary France, Freudian Vienna, Darwinian England, ‘60s Québec, ‘70s Vancouver, an unnamed Muslim country at war and finally to a Montreal Metro. En route we meet Jeanne d’Arc, Sainte Thérèse and there was even a rather odd non- appearance of Marilyn Monroe.
There is a disturbing mother-child theme throughout involving infanticide and the recurrence of the resultant haunting bones. The clear message, told through magic realism, was that Ana is the embodiment of Woman, the blood colour red, symbol of life, death, sex and love, running through the play like a perpetual menstrual flow.
Reptilian reinvention is a wonderfully appealing idea but I confess to being confused at the supposed links between the women that appeared over the centuries and found it difficult to completely suspend my disbelief. The idea of parallel lives and universes is an intriguing one but the links between these women seemed tenuous and contrived. A stronger thread connecting them was lacking for this reviewer.
There are strong performances from the whole cast but the show could have been a bit shorter without losing its impact. The child who conversed with Darwin sounded like a Victorian Vicky Pollard and the annoying floppy hatted hippy at the music festival seemed superfluous rather than adding some subtle humour or levity to the sometimes dark and often serious issues in the rest of the play like women’ education in repressed régimes and the effects of poverty on families when selling babies becomes a possibility. The message was the connection through all ages of these apparently disparate women, yet only one man, like a ubiquitous presence, plays all the male roles in the show and this irony was not lost.
The bi-lingual dialogue was dealt with at first with the circus ringmaster speaking French interspersed by English but as the piece proceeded, surtitles appeared and this worked well. However, my disappointment lay elsewhere. The Traverse Spring brochure hails that the play “[Combines] the rhythms of Scots-English with Canadian-French…” so like a child anticipating a special treat, in this case a linguistic Auld Alliance, I waited to hear some Scots words or at least Scots speech rhythms or idioms.
Well, if there were any, they did not reach my ears. Speaking with a Scots accent is not same as speaking Scots or Scots English so I saw this as a lost opportunity for the production to be very nearly tri-lingual. Dommage.
Runs til Saturday 10 March 7.30pm (no performance Mon or Sun)
Venue: Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Wednesday 14th March 7.30pm
Venue: Gardyne Theatre, Dundee College
Friday 16 March 7.30pm, Saturday 17 March 2.30pm & 7.30pm
Venue: Eden Court, Inverness
Monday19 & Tuesday 20 March 7.30pm
Venue: Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 March 7.45pm
Saturday 24 Matinee 2.30pm
ANA has been supported by Creative Scotland, the British Council, Canada Council for the Arts, conseil des arts et des letters du Québec, Conseil des arts de Montreal, Ministère de la Culture, des Communication, et de la Condition Feminine, Ministère des Relations Internationals du Québec.