Mark Ludmon reviews First Snow, or Première neige, at CanadaHub at Edinburgh Fringe
From the publicity for First Snow or Première neige, you might expect a naturalistic drama: a woman summons her family back to their ancestral home in Québec to talk about the future. But from the start, it is clear this is going to be something quite different, blurring the lines between actor and character, in an exploration of national identity and independence.
Written by Scotland’s Davey Anderson and Linda McLean with Québécois writer and director Philippe Ducros, it is performed in both English and French. There are surtitles but they aren’t always there to help: the actors step forward at the start to explain that some of the French will be translated, but not all of it – and “if you don’t speak French, fuck off”. The show continues in this alienating, confrontational style, shifting between the fictional family drama and the apparently real-life experiences of the Scottish and Canadian actors.
The heart of the narrative remains, with successful artist Isabelle gathering together her brother Harry, her daughters Mina and Zoé, adopted son François and a long-lost Scottish friend, Fletcher, along with Zoé’s Scottish boyfriend, Thierry. Some of them have stayed in French-speaking Québec all their lives while others have travelled further such as Harry whose first language has become English. But this story is pushed into the background by the main thrust of the piece which examines different perspectives on regions seeking independence.
As the cast discuss their own countries’ histories, it becomes obvious that Québec and Scotland have a lot in common. While those from Scotland recall their disappointment at the result of the 2014 independence referendum, the Canadians look back over the Québec sovereignty movement, from the 1830s Patriots Rebellion through to the failed referendums of 1980 and 1995.
Directed by Patrice Dubois, the piece draws on the anger and disappointment of those hoping for independence on both sides of the Atlantic. With the excellent cast ostensibly speaking as themselves, it feels intensely personal – it is unclear where the line is drawn between the fictional Thierry and the actor, Thierry Mabonga, when we hear about his story about being born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but growing up as a proud Scot in Glasgow. But for all its polemical power, First Snow seems to dwell too much on the past and talk little about the future.
Running at CanadaHub to 26 August 2018 and at Théâtre de Quat’Sous in Montréal from 26 February to 23 March 2019