New production ANA from Stellar Quines and Québecois company Imago
Traverse show consists of 'gallery of portraits of women'
A co-production between Stellar Quines and Québecois company Imago in English and French and with a heroine played by several actors may sound confusing. But, as its director tells Kelly Apter, it’s actually very audience-friendly
Serge Denoncourt is sitting in the middle of a playground. There are no swings or slides, no sand pits or climbing frames – but it’s a playground none the less. To him anyway. In reality, we’re sitting in an empty rehearsal room, downstairs from the Edinburgh office of Stellar Quines theatre company. But for Denoncourt, one of Canada’s most esteemed theatre directors, it’s very much a playground, a place to experiment, explore and where, crucially, he’s in charge.
‘I like being king of the playground,’ he says with a smile. ‘I used to be an actor, and I didn’t like it at all, because there was somebody saying “do this, do that”. And I looked at them and thought “that’s what I want to do”. Now I’m boss of the playground, and after directing 120 shows, I’m still excited to go into the rehearsal room in the morning, because you never know what will happen.’
The latest in that long line of shows is ANA, a co-production between Stellar Quines and Imago, an English language theatre company based in Québec. Written in English and French by playwrights Clare Duffy and Pierre Yves Lemieux, the production opened in Canada last November, and will tour Scotland throughout March 2012.
A complicated story, told in both languages and spanning numerous periods and places, ANA needed a sharp director to make it work. With over 25 years’ experience, Denoncourt was ripe for the job – but what made him say yes? ‘I have to be hooked,’ he says. ‘Sometimes it’s the play itself that hooks me, sometimes it’s the topic, sometimes it’s the performers. In this case, the hook was the mix of two playwrights, and using actors from Scotland and Montreal. It was kind of a blind date, which was exciting.’
But before agreeing to take on the job, Denoncourt travelled to Scotland to observe the calibre of our theatrical talent. He admits his expectations weren’t especially high. ‘I thought to myself “I’ll try and be kind towards them”,’ he recalls. ‘But that didn’t turn out to be the case. The actors in Scotland are not pretentious, they know how to play. On stage they’re powerful and I was very, very impressed. So I said yes, we should work together.’
The play’s eponymous heroine ‘splits’ in two each time she encounters a challenge too overwhelming to cope with, leading to many different ANAs who travel down many different paths as they move through history.
Ensuring the audience keeps track of who is playing ANA – and which incarnation of ANA that is – has been one of Denoncourt’s most important tasks. When I ask how he has gone about this, the answer is no different from any other play he has directed.
‘I put myself in the spectator’s place,’ says Denoncourt. ‘And I think that is what has saved me throughout my career. I sit and watch and think “nobody will get it, it’s not quite clear”. I’m the first audience member to see it and once I’m in that position I can see if we’ve missed a link.’
Costume design has been key to this, as Denoncourt explains: ‘All the ANAs are dressed in red, so you can’t miss it. If a girl comes on stage and she’s in red, she’s an ANA, if she’s dressed in beige, she’s not an Ana.’ Sounds simple enough, but with topics such as depression and matricide on the agenda, this is not a show to be taken lightly.
Denoncourt describes ANA as a ‘gallery of portraits of women’, which for him – a director well known for his work with female actors – is ideal. But what of the men in the audience, will they find something to connect with? ‘A good story is a good story,’ he says, ‘Women see so many shows that are men’s stories and enjoy them, so I don’t see why a man won’t enjoy a story about women.’
ANA, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 1–Sat 10 Mar; Gardyne Theatre, Dundee, Fri 16 & Sat 17 Mar, then touring.