By Gustavo Subero
At a times when racial tensions are on the increase in many parts of the world. Times when the way one looks or what one wears can easily get a person kicked off a passenger plane and into the hands of the authority. Times when you’d be ill-advised to speak in a way that either your language or your accent may seem “threatening” to people around you, Jean Genet’s The Maids (in its current adaptation) seems very poignant and to address a very contemporary audience. With a very faithful, and yet modern translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton (the same both used in a previous stage version of the play in Sydney in 2013) the play feels as if it had just been recently written for 21c audiences.
Jamie Lloyd does a super job directing this trio of spectacular actresses who all do an amazing job bringing to life the tensions operating in a house where the relationship between the maids and their mistress are heavily shaped by racial and class envy, as well as issues of ethnicity and economic position. Both, Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton bring a completely new dimension to the play by stressing, implicitly through their accents, the ethnic background of the sisters who take upon themselves to stage elaborate scenarios depicting the way they would kill their mistress when the latter is absent from the house. The racial dimension stressed in this new version further complicates the motives and the rationale behind the maids’ action. Aduba shows great dexterity portraying the older sister, Solange, who shows a cheer brutality (and to some degree a manliness reminiscent of Genet’s idea of having men in drag playing the parts) in the way she executes the “staged” killing of her sister (when disguised as their mistress) or how she operates as the brain behind the plot to kill the real mistress. By the same token, Ashton gives a certain fragility and finesse to the younger sister, Claire, as she battles with the depressing realisation that a better future is a complete impossibility for the siblings. And, although Carmichael’s delivery as the mistress seems, at times, too artificial and staged, she does a decent job with a role that would have been better suited for someone older whose “life experience” within the narrative would have been more credible in relation to the two young maid sisters. Overall, it would be very hard to separate Aduba and Ashton’s individual performances as they operate at a unite force for the majority of the play; yet their performances are thrilling and filled with an intensity and a social anger/envy that is hard to miss.
Equally hard to miss is the metaphorical use of rose petals raining over the protagonists during the opening of the play (symbolising their dreams of equality washing over them) and then being swept by them off the centre stage in which the action develops. Sadly, the only criticism I could provide to this production is the fact that the stage direction was not the best. The audience is made to sit both in front and behind the stage but, sadly, the performers seems more focuses to face the traditional front seats rather than the back seats. One could not help but feel a bit sorry for those members of the audience who just happened to watch the back of the actresses for most of the performance.
Cast and Crew
Director – Jamie Lloyd
Designer – Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Designer – Jon Clark
Sound and Music – Ben and Max Ringham
Associate Director – Jessica Edwards
Hair and Wig Designer – Richard Mawby
Fight Director – Kate Waters
Dialect Coach – Penny Dyer
Movement – Polly Bennet