Internet Shakespeare Editions

Shakespeare in Québec -- page 6

Deracination: The Shakespearean Trajectory of Robert Lepage

The Shakespearean trajectory of Robert Lepage embodies this quest for new audiences and modes of representation. Lepage's interest in Shakespeare goes back to his early years with the Théâtre Repère in Québec City, where he created in 1983 Coriolan et le monstre aux mille tetes [Coriolanus and the Thousand-headed Monster]. Following his 1988 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, described above, Lepage co-directed in Saskatchewan with Gordon McCall of Night Cap Productions a bilingual Romeo & Juliette which was set on a strip of the trans-Canada highway that divided the francophone Capulets and the anglophone Montagues. He returned to A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1992 as the first North American to direct at London's National Theatre where his production, set in a sea of mud, was widely denounced (Hodgdon), and in 1995 again staged the play, this time in water, back in Québec. He also directed in 1992, while he was artistic director of French theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, a workshop production of The Tempest in Ottawa and a student production of Macbeth at the University of Toronto. He has since also directed (in 1998) Tempest at the Grand Théâtre in Québec City.

By the early 1990s Lepage's international profile had been established, and Shakespeare traveled with him in such productions as, in 1993, Map of Dreams, a collage of Shakespearean texts produced at the Bayerisches Staatsschauspielhaus in Munich, and The Tempest, in Japanese translation at the Globe Theatre in Tokyo (Charest 209-22). Lepage's 1993 Cycle Shakespeare illustrates the international marketing of a Shakespearean text resolutely québécois in its origins. The Cycle consisted of three Shakespeare translations by Michel Garneau. In 1978 Garneau's "tradapation" of Macbeth into Québécois which, as we have seen, was clearly related to the political and cultural agenda of the community for which it was translated, had shown that Québec had a language of its own worthy even of "Le grand Will." As performed at the Festival de Théâtres des Amériques in Montreal in 1993, Macbeth was described in publicity brochures as having been translated into "a harsh, sensual French similar to that spoken in Québec during the 17th century," while The Tempest was described as having been translated into a "classical Québécois," and Coriolanus into an "international Québécois." The Cycle was summarized as "a journey in the evolution of a language." At the Festival d'Automne in Paris, on the other hand, publicity brochures spoke of the plays as a journey into the innermost depths of the European experience, and the translations were said to reflect "the origin of our common language, and, beyond it, of language itself." The Cycle was also performed in Maubeuge, France, as well as in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Japan, and England.

In the case of Lepage's Elseneure (1995), his solo version of Hamlet, it was a focus on interiority that was used to level geographical diversity. The palace was to be found not in Denmark but in a country of the mind -- in the consciousness of Hamlet, or even, given Lepage's preoccupation with the death of his own father in 1992, in the consciousness of Lepage. Lepage felt that the suitability of Hamlet for solo performance was enhanced by the incestuous quality of its relationships, and also saw in the idea of incest a metaphor for the artistic community in Québec (Charest 203, 202). However, despite the fact that the show resulted from a complex collaboration of a large team of Québec-based artists, its technical wizardry was channeled through the body of the solo actor and completely uprooted from its québécois context of origin. And indeed, though the play opened in Montreal in 1995 and briefly toured the province of Québec, it spent most of its performance lifetime elsewhere, traveling in both French and English versions [8] in 1996 to the United States, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, England and in 1997, after performance in Ottawa, to the U.S, Ireland and Spain.

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Notes

[8] Both versions were originally performed by Lepage. Part way through the run, the performance of the English version was taken over by British actor Peter Darling. [Back]