Derek McLuckie and Pauline Goldsmith bring Jean Genet’s The Maids to stage
All-male version of controversial play set for Glasgay!
Long-term collaborators and best friends Derek McLuckie and Pauline Goldsmith are about to take on their biggest creative challenge to date – an all-male version of French dramatist Jean Genet’s controversial play The Maids
‘It’s about play acting and status games,’ says Derek McLuckie of Jean Genet’s The Maids, an all-male version of which the Glaswegian actor will star in and co-direct at this year’s Glasgay!
‘It’s about how you’re never one person, you’re lots of people,’ adds McLuckie’s co-director, serial collaborative partner and best friend Pauline Goldsmith. ‘It’s about masks and identity and – with relationships – I think it’s this thing about …’
‘Accepting the whole person,’ McLuckie intervenes, ‘rather than a strand of the person.’
‘And ultimately never knowing them, either,’ says Goldsmith. ‘I mean, even though I’ve known Derek for 15 or 20 years, at times I still think “who’s that”? Identity is more fluid than you think.’
A murderous tale – based partly on a true story from 1930s France – that depicts two sisters acting out sadomasochistic rituals of dominance and submission while their tyrannical Madame is away, The Maids arrives at Glasgay! 2010 at McLuckie’s suggestion, fulfilling a long-held ambition for the Genet fanatic. He describes the controversial French playwright, novelist and political activist as his ‘idol’.
Northern Irish actress and playwright Goldsmith only discovered Genet recently via McLuckie, but her imagination too has been seized by the work of the legend of 20th century radical literature. The illegitimate son of a prostitute, Genet lived as a Paris street-urchin, rent-boy and vagabond before beginning to write while in jail in the 1940s. ‘For me, he personifies what’s lost in theatre,’ she says. ‘He’s the outcast, the rebel, the misfit, somebody who spent a lot of time in prison, stole, lived on the streets. When he did The Screens, his play about the Algerian war, French soldiers came down to attack him. [Front National leader] Jean Marie Le Pen was outside the theatre.’
McLuckie tells a story from when Genet was invited to America by the Black Panthers in the early 1970s. ‘He got dressed up in a nightie and got really pissed one night and took loads of sleeping pills and was dancing about in front of them. That’s so much what he’s about.’
The Maids has been presented in a variety of forms around the world since 1947. An all-male version is nothing new – ‘there’s a lot of controversy as to whether Genet ever even wanted males to play it,’ admits McLuckie – but what will set this performance apart, he believes, is a strong cast, completed by Wullie Brennan and Richard Pears. ‘As far as I’m concerned, it’s whether you can play the parts, not the gender of the people playing them. The performers that we have play women really well.’
McLuckie and Goldsmith have worked together several times, and both starred in Elysian Fields, McLuckie’s bio-play about Tennessee Williams staged at Glasgay! in 2008. Their relationship is evidently an intense one. ‘We’ve been through a lot of traumas and shit together, and we support each other quite well,’ McLuckie reveals, with typical candour. ‘I can be quite difficult, I have a very volatile streak that most people would not tolerate or accept, but Pauline does. She’s quite balanced. We just love great theatre and are dedicated to getting it right.’
Goldsmith laughs. ‘I think Genet would have been difficult to work with.’
The Maids, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 4–Sat 13 Nov.