The Maids

Wed 10th – Sat 13th February 2016

reviews

Emma Ansell

at 23:31 on 10th Feb 2016

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The Maids, written by Jean Genet and translated by Bernard Frechtman, is an exploration of social hierarchies, madness, murder and role-playing. The elaborate sadomasochistic rituals which dominate the main body of the play are not for the faint of heart. That is not to say that they contain overtly sexual content, but rather that they are violent, perhaps even brutal, both emotionally and physically.

This is by no means a straightforward viewing experience, and an audience member should be prepared to be confused and at times overwhelmed, but this is all part of what makes The Maids an incredibly enjoyable, immersive production.

The first thing you will notice, upon entering the Judith E Wilson Drama Studio, located in the basement of the English Faculty, Sidgwick Site, is the sumptuous set. The Maids is entirely staged within the madame's boudoir, and as such is a sensual feast for the eyes of reds and pinks and golds, furs and dresses and flowers. So many flowers. This set is in many ways at the heart of the production, and has been designed with great sensitivity to the strength of the play as a whole. The variety was taken full advantage of by the cast, who made the space their own. Through their interaction with the props, and positioning themselves in relation to the set pieces, the cast maintained an energy and dynamism of movement. The set was ceremoniously destroyed and put back together, disordered and then re-ordered by the maids, Claire played by Isla Iago and Solange played by Evie Butcher. This produced a subtle commentary upon the constraints of their day to day lives, and their inability to break free of the confines of their servitude. There was something both satisfying and endlessly frustrating about this alternating chaos and cleanliness.

The most breathtaking part of this production was the acting. There is such a remarkably impressive high energy maintained throughout the entire hour and forty minutes. It definitely did not feel that long at all. Time flew by. The commitment and passion put into this production is plain to see. If it was emotionally exhausting for me as an audience member, I can only imagine what it must be like for the actors involved. The co-stars Isla Iago and Evie Butcher both displayed sensational emotional ranges, often making fast and convincing transitions between extremes. Isla Iago, playing Claire, is a hugely expressive actress. Whether she was playing Claire or playing Claire roleplaying as Madame, Iago was thoroughly engaging and commanded the audience's attention with her lively stage presence. Evie Butcher, playing Solange, was pretty terrifying to be honest, but in a good way. The ending monologue that she so skilfully delivers was both electrifying and eerie. The two actresses have great chemistry, and compliment each other as equals upon the stage. The entrance of Madame, played by Helen Vella Taylor, was a welcomed change of pace and atmosphere. She played her character very sensitively – striking the right balance between portraying the parody we had been led to expect and a real person.

All in all, this is a demanding piece but it is one which is fruitfully realised by a talented cast. The unrelenting pace pulls you through the production. Get yee to the Sidgwick Site!

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