THE MAIDS By Jean Genet (translation by Bernard Frechtman) – Downstairs Belvoir – Glitterbomb in association with 25A Belvoir
When Genet invested the time in his creation of the plotting maids, he was investing more in the idea of a theatre of power and ceremony. There is the master slave relationship between the two maids and their mistress, Madame. The maids themselves are siblings, struggling with each other.
Tonight’s ceremony involves a sacrifice, as each character vies to play the queen and the willing victim. Roleplay forms the structure and devices of Carissa Licciardello’s The Maids. She is deliberate in her exploration of who holds the power in any relationship and how such power plays are exchanged and manipulated.
The director has deliberately cast Madame as a male actor in drag who gazes down on her maids, by turns generous and terrifying. The Maids was transgressive in 1948, the two maids were in Genet’s ‘vision’ meant to be played originally by two adolescent boys. The casting of a male Madame commits a more updated transposition, with the male playing the role of the predator and benefactor. Skyler Ellis as Madame deliberately has incarnated a shifting falsetto to release or undercut his feminine controller with the masculine threat and challenge. The director referencing the #Metoo movement to expose misogyny “upon and within the female psyche”.
The planned interweaving of a non-diagetic musical soundscape resonating the purposeful tableaux of our players doesn’t quite generate the tension but at times distracts from the images.
The characters move furtively round Madame’s boudoir at the same time imagining their flight to freedom. The setting shifts from the bedroom to becomes a mausoleum, the chapel, the dock, and the gallows. The gilt gold and azure blue of the designed space has at its centre a golden plinth which we accept as Madame’s bed, a golden ‘catafalque (1) ’ or a catwalk. The effect is claustrophobic as the audience is never able to escape from the tightening tension between the maids and their mistress.
Genet has his subjects, we do not see them as Claire or Solange but as ‘both’ in much the same way as they ‘play’ at being Madame. Amanda McGregor as Solange and Alexandra Aldrich as Claire keep us ultimately engaged in both their plot and their interplay. They lend their maids both focus and teasing tension. The quest for the ultimate escape illusive or is it? They are stuck trapped in their game playing nothingness. We can accept Genet as a collaborator in this surreal Absurd glimpse of not only a moment in time but all of time’s moments. THE MAIDS, always intimately bound together, their only escape is to play each other’s role to the seedy but glorious death.
- a decorated wooden framework supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state.