TO visit the Carrefour International (“International Crossroads”) theatre festival in Québec City is – for me, as a theatre critic, journalist and a Scot of pro-indy sympathies – to be faced with a series of fascinating parallels.

Conventional wisdom might have it that the Scots have far more in common with English-speaking Canada (from the massive Scottish community in Toronto to the Caledonian-named province of Nova Scotia) than they have with the predominantly French-speaking, former French colony of Québec.

However, the political similarities between Scotland and Québec are remarkable. Like Scotland, Québec has come tantalisingly close to securing independence through referendum (with an agonising 49.42% of people voting for sovereignty in a record turnout of more than 93% in the 1995 plebiscite).

Walk around the nation’s capital, Québec City, and one will see evidence of the on-going campaign for independence. “Québec Libre” (“Free Québec”) shouts a poster demanding a “3e (‘troisieme’) referendum” (the first referendum, in 1980, was lost 60/40).

The poster also carries the legend “Vive le Québec libre”, quoting then French president Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech in Montreal in 1967. “Vive le Québec!,” said de Gaulle, uncontroversially, before adding, “Vive le Québec libre!”

With that little “libre” the political and diplomatic merde hit the fan. The outraged Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson responded: “Canadians do not need to be liberated.”

If Scotland’s pro-indy political scene can seem complex, Québec’s is more complicated still. Québec is currently governed by the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec (“Coalition for Québec’s Future”), which is made up of conservatives who back either greater autonomy for Québec or full independence.

In addition to the CAQ, there is an informal agreement between two major centre-left, pro-independence parties. The Parti Québécois contests elections to the Québec National Assembly in Québec City, whilst the Bloc Québécois stands in elections to the Canadian federal parliament in Ottawa.

It is impossible to visit Québec without feeling that one is in a stateless nation that, like Scotland, has a very definite potential to become independent.

It is remarkable that Scotland’s theatre culture has long been more closely aligned with the theatre of Québec than of Anglophone Canada. In my 28 years of writing about theatre in Scotland I have seen Scottish companies stage numerous works by the Québécois bard Michel Tremblay (translated into Scots by the great collaborators Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay) and also Stellar Quines theatre company’s memorable production of The Reel Of The Hanged Man (another Bowman/Findlay translation) by Jeanne-Mance Delisle.

Add to that the longstanding relationship that the acclaimed Québécois theatre-maker Robert Lepage has with the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) and his past association with Glasgow’s now sadly neglected Tramway venue.

A woman who remembers Lepage’s relationship with Tramway very fondly is Marie Gignac, the Québécoise actor who is the current artistic director of the Carrefour festival.

The National: Artistic director Marie Gignac thinks the Quebecois have much in common with ScotsArtistic director Marie Gignac thinks the Quebecois have much in common with Scots

When we meet in a Québec City café, she recalls being in Glasgow in 1990, the year of the city’s highly successful European Capital of Culture programme.

She performed at Tramway in Lepage’s Tectonic Plates, a show that received rapturous acclaim from audiences and critics alike. Gignac’s memory of the 1994 world premiere of Lepage’s play The Seven Streams of the River Ota at the EIF is not quite as warm.

“It was a catastrophe,” she says, matter-of-factly. “The show wasn’t ready.”

That artistic hiccup notwithstanding, Gignac’s various visits to Scotland have given her an affinity with the country. “I think we [the Québécois] have much in common with Scottish people,” she comments.

The artistic director, like her counterparts all over the world, is relieved that, after two years of Covid disruption, Carrefour is back to a full programme of live work. She notes, however, that audience numbers have not fully recovered (as reflected in the many empty seats for some big name artists this year).

This reflects the fact that, although Canada is returning to a post-Covid normality, it is doing so less quickly, in some respects, than some other countries. For example, masks are still mandatory on Canadian trains and on flights into Canada.

There are parallels to be drawn between Gignac’s festival and the EIF’s drama programme. Both are prestigious, international showcases, presented in their respective capital cities, with financial support from their governments.

The National:

Indeed, like the EIF, Carrefour has the prestige to attract productions by major international theatre artists. In the 2022 programme, for instance, renowned English dramatist Martin Crimp (above) staged the world premiere of his fascinating new work Not One Of These People.

The National: A scene from English dramatist Martin Crimp’s Not One Of These People, premiering at Carrefour festivalA scene from English dramatist Martin Crimp’s Not One Of These People, premiering at Carrefour festival

Containing 299 short speeches by 299 characters, the piece combines live and recorded speech by Crimp with deep fake imagery representing the entire panoply of dramatic figures in the play. Presented at Théâtre la Bordée, the production is directed by Québécois dramatist Christian Lapointe (who also performed the French-language premiere of the piece at the festival).

A deeply intriguing, sometimes touching, often very funny work, the piece is an extremely timely engagement with the often risk-laden politics of identity.

A co-production between London’s Royal Court Theatre, Carte Blanche of Québec City and the Carrefour festival, it will, one assumes pop up in London before long.

It is also, I would suggest to incoming EIF director Nicola Benedetti, worth considering for her inaugural programme in 2023. Indeed, the show titled I/O – created and performed by Dominique Leclerc for Montréal-based company Posthumains – is another production from this year’s Carrefour that deserves to be on Benedetti’s radar.

The piece uses live and recorded video, machines and a fascinating assortment of objects (all recognisable aspects of the idiom of Robert Lepage, who was in attendance at the opening night of I/O in Québec City). Leclerc assembles a cabinet of personal, and very analogue, curiosities while she explores the “post-human” ideas of those who would entrust the future of humanity to artificial intelligence and exploratory medical technologies such as gene editing.

It is, by turns, a powerful, sobering, and defiantly humanistic piece of theatre, and one that would be worthy of a place in the EIF programme.