Michel Tremblay’s play Les Belles-Soeurs, about a woman who wins a million Green Shield stamps and who calls in her friends and family to help her stick them in to books so she can cash them in, was first staged in 1968 in Montreal.
The Scots version, translated by Bill Findlay and Martin Bowman, premiered at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow in 1989. This reprise of what has become a classic play is performed by a fifteen strong cast of Scottish female actors, some of whom appeared in the Tron production, and each of whom brings verve and utter believability to this diverse group of women characters.
Under the gaze of a statue of the Sacred Heart, they gather in Germaine Lauzon’s kitchy kitchen that has been fabulously created by Francis O’Connor. They are seated facing the audience at a long table that at times looks like a tableau of the Last Supper as when the spotlight lands on one character for a speech revealing more of her story.
Catholicism permeates the piece with piety jostling for place with a rude acceptance of the raw reality of life. A crucified Christ appears on the ceiling as they stop sticking to kneel and say their novenas to a radio Mass but Germaine’s potential wealth is a catalyst for these women going through the gamut of most of the seven sins between them - anger and envy that it is Germaine who is lucky, not them; greed as they stuff sleekit handbags with books of Green Shield stamps; the results of lust in Lise Paquette’s unwanted pregnancy and Germaine’s pride in her potential acquisitions.
Sloth does not get a look in as the ‘Work, work’ mantra that is recited like a bitter rosary tells of their perpetual daily domestic and unappreciated toil. It is no wonder that in the midst of creating her new home full of luxury goods that Germaine thinks of ‘a wee electric razor for Henri’ as an afterthought.
Female dynamics, be it mother/daughter; aunt/niece; sisters or life- long friends, are wonderfully observed. This play pre-dates Tony Roper’s The Steamie, but it is interesting that such sympathetic stories of working class women have been written by men.
Tremblay’s original text was written in joual, the vernacular of the Canadian French working class. The translation to Scots by Bill Findlay and Martin Bowman is gloriously rich and vibrant and was delivered with vital authenticity by the cast.
Jo Cameron Brown was dialect coach and her guidance has clearly been heeded. Jo Cameron Brown’s own character, Lisette de Courval, was a social climber who liked French films and visiting thon Europe; a bit out of step with her poorer neighbours. Her accent was perfect Kelvinside/Morningside ‘pan loaf’ as she made embarrassed lapsing gaffes when speaking about somebody being ‘weel brung up’.
It is really unfair to give special mention to individual actors with the likes of Molly Innes, Kathryn Howden and Karen Dunbar on stage but Maureen Carr’s (Yvette Longpré) delivery of a list of French names was breath-taking and Lisa Gardner (Pierette Guerin) was every inch the shaky and wasted ‘bad’ girl throughout. Megan Baker’s costume skill with this cast was both fun and accurate in equal measure.
Germaine Lauzon (Kathryn Howden) may have ruled the roost with her potential wealth, but ends bewailing the loss of ‘ma stuff’ like a poor version of Marie whose own smaller and closer ‘mob’ robbed her leaving her with rien.
The company’s fine and uplifting rendition of Burns’ Is there for Honest Poverty (A Man’s a Man for a’ that) may be an unlikely musical ‘bookend’ to Lulu singing Shout at the start, but is a poignant finale to this a highly comic piece of astute social commentary full of pantomime and farce, brilliantly directed by Serge Denoncourt. The Guid Sisters wis dead guid!