A Production History of Les Belles Soeurs

  • date
  • March 4, 2016

Les Belles Soeurs might now be considered a Canadian classic, with hundreds of foreign performances and adaptations. It is, perhaps, Canada’s largest contribution to the international drama scene. At the time it was written, however, it seemed an insignificant but controversial piece, as it was performed in a small theatre with the playwright, Michel Tremblay’s, name spelled incorrectly on the poster.

While Les Belles Soeurs was well received by Quebecois audiences, many thought that it was an embarrassing representation of the province, featuring working class women, “vulgar” language, and discussions of socially disrespected subjects, including sex and abortion. To top it off, the show was written and performed using the Joual dialect, believed by many to be an inferior form of French. A few years after the initial production, the Ministry of Culture refused to provide the money needed to take the play to Paris, a decision widely speculated to have been made because of the play’s cynical portrayal of Quebec.

In the end, Les Belles Soeurs became successful regardless of its critics, with performances taking place both in Toronto and Paris in 1973. While the Paris reception received a very small audience its opening night, it soon gained popularity, despite the differences in dialect. Tremblay once recalled in a radio interview that after performances in Toronto, members of the audience came backstage to tell him, “There were ‘Belles Soeurs’ in Toronto,” as well.

The play has been translated into multiple languages since its first publication and it has seen many successful adaptions, such as the Scottish Guild Sisters, translated by Bill Findlay and Martin Bowman and directed by Serge Denoncourt. Another notable adaptation is the English musical by Brian Hill and Neil Bartram. While the language and political statements of the play garnered attention during its early years, it is the small but universal joys and struggles of ‘the women of the Main’ that makes Les Belles Soeurs timeless.

Contributed by Emma Hunter, Grade 11

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