Writer: Jean Genet
Translation: Martin Crimp
Director: Stewart Laing
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
The coupling of the Tony award-winning director and designer Stewart Laing, and master of the avant-garde, Jean Genet, appears to be a match made in heaven. Both are men of unique aesthetic style and vision, and in this production of Genet’s notorious 1947 play,The Maids, it seems the spirit of Genet lives strong in Laing.
Loosely based on the case of the Papin sisters, who scandalised French society in the 1930’s by brutally murdering their mistress and her daughter. Laing adheres to Genet’s original vision, casting the play as he originally intended; with men.
In dressing the three men largely masculinely, with only nods to our notions of how women should be portrayed, he plays with our pre-conceptions. The feminisation takes the form of a jewel here or a dress-like garment there, the actors physical actions retain their maleness. Genet’s play continues to subvert our conceptions: in having men ritualistically and obsessively recreate the maids degrading abuse at the hands of their capricious mistress, the physical threat seems heightened, but perversely loses some of its power. We, the audience, expect men to be violent; we even expect this of the men who are supposed to be playing women.
This is a play of rituals; ceremony and symbolism; of power and submission; obsession and exorcism. It’s stylised, dense and often overwrought dialogue and subject matter go beyond the bounds of realism. But in the hands of Laing and his actors, what it doesn’t do is descend into melodrama, which it so easily could have.
Scott Reid (Solange) and Ross Mann (Claire) compellingly portray the incestuous and lethal power play between the sisters. Mann is especially convincing as the submissive Claire. Samuel Keefe provides a welcome and much needed change of tone as the mercurial Mistress.
The staging is fiercely imaginative: curtains move in mysterious ways; there are projections and disconcerting and seemingly unconnected sound effects; the actors playing electric guitars provide punctuation to the piece with music from the likes of Metallica, David Bowie and The Velvet Underground; there’s even a BBC documentary, but to say any more would rob the piece of its impact.
The play remains as it was intended to be; thought-provoking, challenging, subversive, original, bewildering, vivid, innovative, unpredictable and memorable. Leave your pre-conceptions at the door and get a ticket for the roller-coaster ride.
Runs until: 2 February