Jean Genet's classic 1947 play, The Maids, is restaged like a warped fairytale
- Lorna Irvine
- 24 October 2017
Strong performances anchor a 'frothy affair'
The fallen rose petals strewn across the stage symbolise both the lost bloom of youth in ageing maids Claire (Irene Macdougall) and Solange (Ann Louise Ross) and their fantasy world that they have built around their younger spoilt Mistress (Emily Winter) whom the pair plot to poison in her Rococo-inspired Parisian boudoir. Slipping on her gorgeous gowns as easily as psycho-sexual roles, they are tiring of being interchangeable to their employer, and spend some time encased in large perspex boxes, ready to be wakened by the demands of the ghastly woman. Making the women older works to add yet more layers of complexity to an already dense script which plays with agency and domination.
Translated by Martin Crimp, Genet's acid lyricism has lost none of its snarl. Director Eve Jamieson's decision to invert the tropes of fairytales like Sleeping Beauty is highly effective, but the production really flies when MacDougall and Ross, superb as they both are, have Winter's snooty, sexy disdain to work against. She's a gloriously campy vamp, and a splendid foil, bringing a capricious attitude towards the maids' sometimes willing but also oppressive submission.
However, the whole is a maddeningly frothy affair, and lacks a little macabre spirit, despite the intrusions of David Paul Jones' splintering music. Genet's railing against the mistreatment of working-class people remains as pertinent as ever, yet the production never goes deeper into the torment of Claire and Solange's psyches, nor the corrosive nature of capitalism.
A noble attempt, then, to bring new blood to the play, with three hugely enjoyable, strong performances, but the overall effect is as clean as the Mistress's spit and polished high heels.
Dundee Rep Theatre 17 Oct–4 Nov