Home Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 21st November, 2018
On the face of it they seem to be the perfect house servants: with loyalty and a sense of obedient duty they neatly arrange the flowers, make the tea, and keep the house clean and tidy. But when the Mistress is away the servant-to-master pretence is temporarily removed – a sinister and menacing rage emerges, one that threatens to end in murderous ruin.
First performed in Paris in 1947 and based on a true story, The Maids by French writer Jean Genet is a complex theatrical thriller that explores the turbulent conflicts arising on the front lines of a class war.
The maids in question are Solange and Claire; their on-stage identities are so mutually intertwined that it’s impossible to work out which performer is taking which role. Both Jake Fairbrother and Luke Mullins deliver a perfectly viable representation of both women. This constant swapping of identities only adds to the air of confusion and generates a great deal of the overall tension. Is one of these two maids a psychopath and the other doing her best to avoid causing upset, or are they both criminally deluded?
Much of the opening half of the play is a highly abstract and almost surrealist depiction of what becomes of domestic servitude when the subservients get a chance to temporarily switch off. Solange and Claire take great pleasure in dressing in their mistress’ clothes and contemplating what it must be like to literally be her.
What comes across so well in The Maids is the conflict between that which is good and that which is bad. The conflict seems to be never-ending but there’s also a sense that it is also unstoppable. Claire and Solange take turns to role-play as their Mistress; one minute they’re in awe of her beauty and her class, the next they’re simmering with rage at the injustice that allows her to literally rule over them.
The rage also manifests itself in the form of the Maids fantasising about the Master of the house, made worse by the Claire / Solange conflict as each decides that she’s the one worthy of dethroning the Mistress and claiming the Master prize. For long periods in the show neither Mistress nor Master actually appear on stage, their physical absence adds to the anticipatory suspense as both Maids escalate their scheming and plotting to disturbing levels in the absence of any controlling force to exert a reality check.
Completing the on-stage triumvirate is Danny Lee Wynter, who eventually enters the action as the elusive Mistress. Winter’s portrayal is perfect, the Mistress is kind and generous, she comes across as an almost faultless benefactor to the Maids – yet again creating conflict for both the Maids and the audience as she doesn’t in any way personify the oppressive inequality of one human being having to serve another.
The Maids is a wonderfully dark and tense piece of theatre, an almost dream-like experience that you might perhaps only expect to be achieved with televisual or cinematic special effects. But here it’s achieved through the delivery of characters who portray the agony of trying to escape unbearable suffering which they can do little about. This is a show that beautifully and precisely portrays the claustrophobia of oppression and goes a long way to justifying the extreme actions that some might take to escape it.
Photography: Jonathan Keenan
Staged in the round with Home’s Theatre 1 having been completely reconfigured especially for the purpose. The on-stage visual effects are good, with elegant dresses and flowers being “planted” into the ground with darts. It didn’t seem obvious what the round stage was offering though, this show didn’t seem to contain anything that the normal stage configuration couldn’t have delivered.
Very good sound effects throughout the performance which really heightened the tension at all the right moments. Very much the soundtrack to a thriller / horror, which is how the overall performance came across.
Architecture & Theme
A brilliant idea for a play with so many angles to consider in terms of the class conflict between the Maids and the Mistress. Multiple plot sub-twists did a brilliant job of cranking up the tension to lead to a thrilling climax.
Outstanding performances from all three cast members in order to create believable and appealing characters who developed as the show went on and played a large part in ensuring that the abstract nature of the plot wasn’t too confusing to be understood.
A superb example of a dark and tense piece of theatre that genuinely scares by continually swapping the hero / villain status of each of the characters.
Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.