Male cast of The Maids
Loosely based on the true story of the notorious Papin sisters (who where convicted of the brutal murder of their mistress in '30s France), Genet's The Maids is a stock text within the theatrical canon - for its influence on absurdism, for its depiction of class struggle, for female relational masochistic oppression, even. It rotates around a fantasy world created by sisters Claire and Solange - the maid servants of Madame and her lover, Monsieur, who are clearly an oppressive yet attractive force on the sisters' weak mental framework.
As The Maids is mostly a two hander between these deeply scarred subservients with slipping identities (it's never truly clear who is Solange and who is Claire) and increasingly discerning notions of reality, to take on the play is the acting equivalent of agreeing to run a marathon; it needs conviction and an intense attention to detail to live out the text to the full. Phizzical Productions transposes the action to India, and is playing half of its run with an all male cast, the other half all female. This unfortunately left a lot to be desired; with key lines thrown away, the performances arelargely on one level and no effective expression of the pain, grit and resentment which would turn the sisters to madness and cruelty.
The situation was tempered briefly by the arrival of Madame, a tall, burly framed man in a shawl with bells on his feet, who at least got a few laughs out of the script but soon returned to the nervous, uneven performances provided by the rest of the cast. A strong sense of sadomasochism was evoked by the costumes, with male maids wearing large golden medallion necklaces as part of their matching outfits which made them as much a part of the gaudy set as the other jewels and silks within Madame's locked cupboards and chests.
Which leaves the question of why Phizzical chose to revive this play? At sixty years old, The Maids may be a bit too literary for an audience in 2009 used to 'new writing' TV type scripts. Typical of Genet, it has many fine details that need to be fully comprehended - Solange's final speech / confession alone where she depicts her / Claire (or is it Madame's?) walk to gallows through the throbbing streets for the murder of Madame (or could it be Claire?) is an emotional epic, here rendered as a barely audible voiceover.
By Claire Cooke