The Guid Sisters
Entertaining and energetic revival of Scots version of Michel Tremblay's classic Les Belles-soeurs
Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay's Scots translation of Michel Tremblay's Les Belles-sœurs burst onto Scottish stages in the late 1980s in the wake of that other hugely popular comedy-drama based around a community of women, The Steamie. But The Guid Sisters has little of the gentle humour and sentimental view of female solidarity displayed in Tony Roper's play. While the laughs in Serge Denoncourt's revival for the National Theatre of Scotland come thick and fast, the banter and 'argie-bargeying' among the 15 women characters in Tremblay's play (originally written and delivered in the working class, Québécois dialect, Joual) is a noisy diversion from festering resentments: begrudgery, bitterness, loneliness and disappointment.
Denoncourt does an admirable job of marshalling this large ensemble as Tremblay's cast gathers in the kitchen of Germaine Lauzon (Kathryn Howden), aspirational 60s tenement dweller, ostensibly to help stick the million Green Shield stamps she has won in a competition. As the night wears on and Madame Lauzon's stamp books begin to disappear into her envious neighbours' handbags the surface gossip and squabbling gradually becomes interspersed with lyrical soliloquies that add depth and pathos to the characters. Ann Louise Ross is particularly poignant as Angéline Sauvé, who just wants a couple of hours of fun over a coke in a down-at-heel club every week. Gaylie Runciman shines as Mademoiselle Verrette, harbouring a pathetic crush on a visiting salesman. Karen Dunbar, meanwhile, is on blistering form as Germaine's fiery sister Rose, fists permanently clenched and lips set hard against suppressed rage at her lot in life.
On such a crowded stage, it's inevitable that some of the characters' stories should have more impact than others. In an overlong play a couple of the stories feel a little sketchy and superfluous, and some of the jokes are either repetitive or don't quite hit the mark. But Denoncourt's production is undoubtedly entertaining and there's no denying the energy and commitment of the ensemble who do full justice to Bowman and Findlay's vibrant translation in several inspired set pieces, including a hilarious 'Ode to Bingo'. What emerges with increasing intensity as the play progresses is a desperate portrait of women's lives constricted by relentless poverty, drudgery and religious dogma. While these specific pressures may have changed somewhat in the forty-five years since Les Belles-soeurs was first produced, the overall image of a society pinning its collective hopes for happiness and a better life on shiny consumer goods is frighteningly familiar.
- Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 13 Oct; King's Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 23-Sat 27 Oct.