Stellar Quines' The List, starring Maureen Beattie, examines the female condition
Fringe show charts story of bereaved woman struggling to come to terms with rural living
This article is from 2012.
Actress Maureen Beattie is talking about cake. Not in the way that most women do, about trying to resist temptation, but more about how baking and decorating can be a creative experience. It is a symbol of domestic prowess, but also an outlet for potentially stifled female expression. ‘We were talking in rehearsals and I remembered that line that Shirley Conran came out with once, that everyone has a creative imagination, even if it’s sometimes squelched into cake making.’
For many women this may well ring true. In the day-to-day working life of a mother, wife or businesswoman, creativity and self-expression sometimes take a back seat especially in today’s society where working hours are on the up and the pressure on women to match up to men is increasing.
‘There are so many different ways it works for women nowadays,’ says Beattie. ‘It must be very difficult to find an outlet but there’s no question that every woman has some creative talent.’
Domesticity, expression and the female self are some of the ideas that lie at the heart of the new production from Scottish women’s theatre company, Stellar Quines. They are performing the one woman Canadian drama The List at this year’s Fringe. Written by Jennifer Trembley and translated by Shelley Tepperman The List explores themes of exile, isolation, guilt, loneliness and motherhood through one woman’s experience.
Beattie plays a wife and mother of three young children living in rural Quebec, Canada. As her husband travels miles to work in the next town leaving her at home with their children, she struggles to adapt to the isolation of domestic life. She finds a kindred spirit in her neighbour Caroline, and when her friend asks her for a favour she meticulously adds it to her list. But when she wavers from her task, a tragedy occurs leaving the narrator feeling that she is in some way responsible for Caroline’s death.
In an age where the traditional ideal of the woman as housewife is no longer widely applicable, it’s hard to imagine how a modern audience can connect with a work that brings these issues to the fore. Director Muriel Romanes initially had reservations about whether The List was too domestic, but after working through Trembley’s text she found her own relevance in it.
‘What it has to speak for today is that women will always be giving birth and having children,’ says Romanes. ‘It absolutely gets to the heart of the female condition and the idea that you have a personal responsibility in the community to care for people.’
The community is notably absent from The List, with the narrator the sole figure in the midst of a minimal set designed by playwright and artist John Byrne. In the intimate sixty-seater auditorium of Summerhall Beattie will literally be at eye level with some of the audience. In this setting the story of the narrator (which is based largely on Trembley’s own experiences) becomes more like a confession. ‘The space feels like a courtroom,’ says Beattie, ‘and you’re sitting down on the stage like a specimen where everyone can see the whites of your eyes.’
It’s a far cry from Beattie’s other project at the festival, reading Titania in a performance of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Usher Hall. These are two very different challenges, she says, but ones that she is equally excited about.
For Romanes, there’s never been any doubt that Beattie is right for the part. ‘She is the most superb actress that we have; it’s a challenging script and an intimidating setting but she’s a very brave woman.’
The List, Summerhall, 0845 874 3001, 4–25 Aug (not 6, 12 & 13, 20), 2pm, £12 (£10). Preview 3 Aug, £8 (£6).