In the opening scene Eleanor, in a fine performance by Jessica Chastain, attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge. The attempt is unsuccessful and she is pulled out of the water and taken to hospital.
The film then follows two threads. It examines the events leading up to her suicide attempt and simultaneously how Eleanor’s family and friends respond to her obvious fragility. We are taken along on Eleanor’s journey of suffering but it is a fairly pragmatic journey. She attempts various techniques to regain and restore her life, and more deeply to question what is a way to live a life and how does one know. This is not a self indulgent tale of woe instead it is an intelligent and entertaining view of living.
THE MAIDS…You saw it?…That’s the Sydney Theatre Company show with Cate Blanchett and the famous French actress Isabella Huppert in it. Really?! I bet it was amazing…What was it like’?!
This MAIDS exudes atmosphere like a long, piercing saxophone solo that feels like it is going to go on and ache forever.
Blanchett and Huppert play the two maids, and sisters too, Claire and Solange, who are symbolically on a cliff face and tottering over the edge.
They are in a live-in arrangement with their Mistress (Elizabeth Debicki), who they hate so much that it scintillates them. The disempowered (‘I have had enough of scrubbing the toilet, kneeling down to it like an altar’) are after annihilation. They have visions of murdering her- hacking her to pieces and burying her in the forest. When she’s away from home, they spend half their time playing role plays mocking her, the other half obsessively plotting her demise.
Director Benedict Andrews maximises the tension on stage by bringing his filmic technique to the production. Video operators on either side of the perimeter of Alice Babbage’s stage film every movement the three actresses make and these images are then beamed onto a large video screen that faces the audience. At times, the screen swaps back to still images of flowers, especially arum lilies- traditionally symbols of death.
Along with the continuous footage coming from the actresses, Andrews has other images on the screen including arum lilies- symbols of death.
Babbage’s set is breathtaking…stunningly capturing the grandeur and opulence of the Mistress’s parlour. Flowers are everywhere…..The back wall of the stage features the Mistress’s huge wardrobe….At the front of the stage is a small dressing room table and mirror.
There are many great moments. My pick…Elizabeth Debicki’s grand ‘power’ entrance as the Mistress in full regalia and wearing dark shades…her dismissively throwing some of her favourite dresses at Solange as if they don’t matter…Claire dressing as her Mistress, in a beautiful red gown with Solange submissively hanging onto the train of her dress.
Recommended, Benedict Andrews’s production for the Sydney Theatre Company of Jean Genet’s 1947 play THE MAIDS, in a new English language translation by Andrews together with Andrew Upton, opened at the Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay on Saturday June 4 and plays until Saturday 20 July, 2013.
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