Home > 1980, 20th Century, Quebec Literature, Theatre, Tremblay Michel > Albertine in Five Times – A play

Albertine in Five Times – A play

November 8, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Albertine in Five Times by Michel Tremblay. (1984) Original French title : Albertine en cinq temps

My new season at the theatre has started, so you’ll hear about plays again. The first one was Albertine en cinq temps by the Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay. The play dates back to 1984. Albertine is 70, she’s moving in a new home, probably a nursing home. It’s her first night in her new room and she remembers her life. Up to that point, you think it’s already been done. The originality of Tremblay’s play comes from the form. Five actresses are on stage, each picturing Albertine at one moment of her life. Madeleine, Albertine’s now-deceased sister is there too. The six of them will interact and slowly unravel Albertine’s life to the spectator. We learn that her husband died during the war, that her daughter Thérèse strayed from the common path and that her son Marcel is mentally disabled.

Albertine at 30 is in the country for a week away from her family. She was sent there after a drama with Thérèse.

Albertine at 40 is depressed and overwhelmed by her daily life with her children. She’s in a constant fight with Thérèse and Marcel requires a lot of attention. She’s become difficult to live with and believes her family doesn’t respect her or listen to her.

Albertine at 50 is freed. She has decided to cut her children out of her life. She has asked Thérèse not to contact her anymore and she put Marcel in an institution. She works as a waitress, earns her own money and feels free and liberated.

Albertine at 60 is at her lowest, addicted to pills to dull the pain.

Albertine at 70 has been to rehab and is now clean. She’s alone with her memories and tries to reconcile her past selves into her present one.

Through the fragmented Albertines, we eventually have a global picture of Albertine’s life and her misfortunes. It’s extremely well done. The different Albertines talk to each other, questioning their choices, underlining the consequences of a decision made by one Albertine to the life of the next Albertine.

We see the portrait of a bruised and battered widow who had to deal with two difficult children, without the support of a husband, with the constant putting down of her mother, with the love of a sister who had a perfect life.

Tremblay shows us the fate of a woman who was born at a time when being a wife and a mother was almost the only career path. Thirty-year-old Albertine asks Madeleine if she never felt trapped because there wasn’t many options. She felt prisoner of her fate as a woman. She doesn’t know how to interact with Thérèse. She wasn’t meant to be a mother and society thought that women were only on earth to be wives and mothers. She feels like a failure because she can’t be the good mother she should be. She is judged because it should be natural, so something must be wrong with her. And in the end, she is knocked-out by guilt.

Guilt to have put into the wold two “abnormal” children. Albertine at 40 shouts that people should remember they were two to make these children, that her husband died at war and became perfect in the process and that now everybody believes that it’s her fault if her children aren’t normal.

Guilt to fail them as a mother. She loves them but lacks motherly qualities. She has trouble to communicate with them, to show her love. But how can she when her own mother yells at her and belittles her? Tough love is the only one she knows. Is it her fault if Thérèse is now a drug addict and a floozy?

Guilt to have chosen her freedom and her sanity and to have abandoned them. People judged her for that and she had to live with her decision. Her relationship with Thérèse was going nowhere and was toxic for both of them. Sometimes cutting ties is the only solution. Marcel retrieved further into himself and cut communication too.

Albertine in Five Times is poignant play about the destiny of a woman who was caged in her time. She had no other choice than being a mother, she needed help but didn’t get any because she should have known what to do as if being a mother was a built-in skill coming with ovaries.

It is a play about memory and the different Albertines interacting is a clever way to picture our sometimes crowded heads. Although it’s common to talk about a trip down memory lane, memories aren’t linear. They bounce on one another, one leading to another, leaping from one period of our life to another. The simultaneous presence of the five Albertines on stage pictures it perfectly. It is difficult not to think about Proust with a character like Albertine. The opening of the play is Albertine settling in a new room and thinking about the past. It remined me of Proust in his room in Balbec. Proust is also a master in playing with memories. I can’t imagine there’s no reference to Proust with a main character named Albertine who has a son named Marcel. I wonder where Thérèse comes from, though.

I saw a version directed by Lorraine Pintal, with Lise Castonguay, Éva Daigle, Martine Francke, Monique Miller, Madeleine Péloquin, Marie Tifo.

The direction is flawless from the décor, the costumes, the movements on stage to the choice of actresses. The Albertines are dressed in the same colours and fashion with only the style of clothes adapting to her age. The only totally different clothing is Albertine at 50 when she revolted and left to be a waitress. The décor is full of vertical lines, showing bars to symbolise the prison of Albertine’s condition as a woman. Using different stairs allowed Lorraine Pintal to put each Albertine in her own place (room, café, house in the country) but didn’t cut the actresses from moving from and to each other and interacting lively.


The actresses were from Québec and had a local accent. The first minutes were difficult but I got used to it. The differences between French and Québec French are real and rather puzzling and entertaining. For example, we have both imported the word job from the English, to say travail. In French, job is masculine, like travail. We say un job. In this play, they say une job. In French we use the word rocking chair, which is fair, after all in English, you say a chaise loundge, a name that obviously comes from the French chaise longue. In French Quebec, rocking chair has been translated and became une chaise berçante. There were lots of details like this and it enforces the sense of place. It was impossible to forget you were in Montreal.

If anyone reading this has the opportunity to see this play, rush for it. Everything about it is excellent, the text, the actors, the direction, it has it all.


  1. November 8, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Ha, I had to laugh at your observations about the differences between French and Quebecois French. When I was in Canada recently, I too had trouble understanding the accent and some of the terminology: the ‘telephone intelligent’ instead of smartphone, the ‘magasiner’ instead of ‘shopping’. Great fun!
    This sounds like a very powerful play though – perhaps a bit too close to home (with Albertine at age 40), so I don’t know if I should see it…


    • November 10, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      Oooh! I didn’t know about the téléphone intelligent! Funny but so much longer than smartphone!
      Magasiner is a well-know one. Like “tomber en amour“.
      I couldn’t explain this in English, but since you speak French…
      Les actrices supprimaient le h aspiré devant le verbe haïr. Donc, au lieu de dire elle haïssent, elles disaient elles zaïssent. Ca fait mal aux oreilles, comme une grosse faute de grammaire.

      It is a powerful play. Albertine at 40 was the most angry of all. Stuck between her family, her children and her frustration.It is worth seeing, really.


  2. November 8, 2015 at 11:03 am

    It’s an interesting premise for a drama, especially the idea of a woman questioning herself about her decisions at various stages of her life. This might be different to answer without revealing spoilers, but does she find some sense of understanding in the end?


    • November 10, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      I thought it was a brilliant idea.
      She doesn’t find “some sense of understanding” but I think she forgives herself.

      In a way, she sees that she did her best at each period of her life, she did what she thought was best. That’s why for me, there’s no need to have regrets: we always decide what we think is best, even if we realise afterwards that what we thought was best wasn’t the best at all. What I mean is that I’m not sure we could have made another decision because our assessment of the situation and the possible choices was flawed.


  3. November 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    I really love the idea and would love to watch it. It sounds excellent. Such a great idea.


    • November 10, 2015 at 9:54 pm

      It is a great idea and the direction was perfect. Maybe this play or another by him will be avalaible in your town one of these days.
      In any case, there’s always the possibility to read it.


  4. November 8, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    This sounds great. For some reason I am reminded of Delphine de Vigan’s book–the story of her mother: Nothing Holds Back the Night


    • November 10, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      You’re right, there’s something about Nothing Holds Back the Night, except that the book is from the daughter’s point of view.

      Btw, I’ve just seen a film version of Underground Time, directed by Philippe Harel. If you can, watch it. It’s excellent, faithful to the book and the cast is perfect. Delphine de Vigan was pleased with the adaptation, rightly so.


      • November 10, 2015 at 10:20 pm

        I suppose the connection comes from ‘how much do we really know our parents?’ We see them, sometimes, in roles rather than as separate human beings. Delphine de Vigan didn’t know her mother well but researching for the book opened doors.

        Thanks for the film tip. I’ll watch for it.


        • November 10, 2015 at 10:31 pm

          There’s that. How much do we know our family, actually?

          I hope you can find the film, it’s worth it.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. November 10, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    That sounds excellent. I almost certainly won’t get to see it, but it really does sound very good.

    Jacqui, I wonder if the end has a meaning here? Each point in time in its own way seems valid. Emma?


    • November 10, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      Perhaps you’ll get the chance to see another of his plays. Grant Rintoul said he’s seen several plays by Tremblay at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So they are available in English.

      The end doesn’t have a real meaning. It’s more about an old woman arriving in a nursing home and making peace with herself or with her successive selves. She needs forgiveness, mostly from herself, since the other people involved are dead now.


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