Theatre review: First Snow/Première Neige, Canada Hub at King’s Hall

First Snow/Premier Neige. Picture: Sally Jubb
First Snow/Premier Neige. Picture: Sally Jubb
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Since the independence referendum of September 2014, a strange silence has fallen over Scotland’s theatre-makers on the subject, almost as if the deep divide revealed by the vote has left them unsure of how to address us, and even of who we are.

First Snow/Première Neige, Canada Hub at King’s Hall (Venue 73) ****

A problem shared, though, is sometimes a problem transformed into a new understanding; and something like that seems to have happened in the four-year making of First Snow/Première Neige, a National Theatre of Scotland co-production with two Montreal companies, now receiving its world premiere at the Canada Hub.

Co-written by Philippe Ducros and Scottish playwrights Davey Anderson and Linda McLean, the play emerges as an elegantly surreal and heightened domestic drama, in which a Quebecois woman who voted “yes” in Quebec’s last independence referendum of 1995 – played with terrific force and glamour by Isabelle Vincent – invites her far-flung children, brother and best friend back to the family home, to decide what to do with it.

The family can agree about nothing, with Harry Standjovski’s wonderfully dislikable Harry – Isabelle’s conservative brother – even making a racist remark to his niece’s black boyfriend. The seven people on stage are not just fictional characters, though; they are also the actors playing the parts, the real people whose names they carry, and who have themselves lived through their small nations’ cycles of hope or fear, despair or relief, faced with the idea of independence

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On Karen Tennant’s beautiful open set, with a fine, meditative soundscape by Nick Sagar, the idea of the need for political hope is viewed from many angles, and uncomfortable questions raised about whether the people of Quebec and Scotland are really in a position to understand what oppression means.

And if no conclusion is drawn, in this rich and tentative conversation about how to survive political division and move on, a sense unfolds among director Patrice Dubois’s seven fine actors that in hearing and understanding one another as we have been doing since the 1980s, these two nations separated by 3,000 miles of ocean may still be able to play a powerful part in keeping one another on track.

• Until 26 August, 6:10pm