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By Rosanna Haroutounian
Vanessa Labrie and Kathleen Glynn are shining a spotlight on Québec theatre miles away from its roots in La Belle Province.
The two both studied theatre at Concordia University in Montréal, but it was across the pond in London, England, where they would cross paths.
Glynn, who was born in Québec City, spent the summer working in London as a waitress when she was 18. “It was then that I really experienced what theatre culture was here [in London] and how embedded in society it is,” she says. Glynn decided to move to London in 2015 to pursue an acting career and be with her boyfriend, who is from Spain.
Labrie was born in Denmark and raised in Montréal. She says she always had a fascination with England, which motivated her to attend the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School following her studies at Concordia. She moved to London after graduation, but says she was still looking for a purpose to guide her career.
She says the idea to create a theatre group that showcases Québec culture came to her at 4 a.m. when she was jet-lagged during a trip to Los Angeles.
“This is what I have to offer,” Labrie says. “I’m a French-Canadian in London, and not French-slash-Canadian, but Québécoise, which is a very different identity.”
Labrie began looking for other Québec actors in England, and found five, including herself.
“What girl wouldn’t say yes?” responds Glynn.
Through their theatre group, called Trip & Guts, Glynn and Labrie say they are carving a place for themselves in English theatre while paying homage to their Québec roots.
“Being from Québec is a hard identity because it comes with this whole background,” explains Labrie. She and Glynn agree that actors in Québec are typecast into either French or English roles depending on where they went to school, and that the two sides “don’t translate.”
“I find it quite sad actually, because both sides have so much to gain from each other,” says Labrie. “I think we both really felt like half-and-half. The fact that here we speak English, and we’re surrounded by English people and English theatre, helped define our Québec aspect more, and that for me was a really big revelation.”
The founders of Trip & Guts say Québec’s unique culture and emphasis on cultural preservation drive its artists’ creativity.
“Everything is so alive because there’s always this urge to say, ‘We’re still here,’” says Labrie. She adds that internationally recognized Québec artists, including directors Xavier Dolan and Jean-Marc Vallée, are proof of Québec’s thriving theatre culture.
“I’ve never been prouder to be from Montréal. I’ve never been prouder to showcase the work that’s being done back home,” says Labrie.
Trip & Guts made its debut at the Camden Fringe Festival in August 2016 when the duo staged Québec writer Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard’s play Tranche-Cul. Labrie translated the play into an English adaptation called Cut Throat, with the help of English playwright Matt Cunningham. “We’ve had to really rely on crowdfunding to make it, because there’s a lot of expenses [involved in] putting on a basic stage show,” she says.
Labrie says the play is “about the cruelty that lies within all of us, that we sort of decide not to acknowledge.” She says the play has a non-traditional plot structure, made up of a series of scenes and monologues, which can be funny but also push boundaries on topics like religion, sex and relationships.
“We were coming in with a play that would ruffle a lot of feathers, because it really is provocative. It really is controversial,” says Labrie.
She says the backlash against immigrants in England following the Brexit vote in June created a timely yet unfortunate backdrop for the play’s premiere.
“It gave people licence to say so many hateful things you would never expect,” she says of the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU.
“You never know what lies beneath the surface of society,” Glynn adds. “We knew that people wouldn’t see the content of Cut Throat as gratuitously cruel and mean. We knew they would recognize that situation here.”
In a review published on the theatre website London Box Office, reviewer Phil Willmott writes that the play is “provocatively different,” though not for the faint of heart. He gives Cut Throat four out of five stars, as did other reviewers who viewed it at the Camden Fringe theatre festival.
Baril Guérard travelled to London for a meet-and-greet with audience members at the play’s fourth performance.
“The post-show talk went beyond any expectations, just in terms of how much the people engaged with all the themes,” says Glynn. “It was very interesting to watch how there was so much to explore between both cultures.”
Labrie and Glynn say that while it is challenging to obtain scripts for Québec plays in London, they are already preparing for their next production, planned for spring 2017.
Labrie says Trip & Guts will continue to bring thought-provoking and challenging new theatre productions to London audiences.
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