Oct 17-Nov 4
The Maids (1947) is the first & most popular play to treacle-drip from the pen of Jean Genet, a reformed criminal who created a ritualistic polymorph that still astonishes all who sail in her. I would watch director Eve Jamieson’s transcreation on my first visit to the Dundee Rep, a marvelous space which reflects the gentle grandiosity of the city of Dundee; compact yet spacious, humble yet magnificent, tiny yet extravagant. The auditorium takes the form of three sides of an octagon, & the stunningly decorous stage whisked us with some precision to the boudoir of a wealthy French mistress in which her maids – Solange & Claire – run riot while she is away. On either side of the stage were two clear boxes in which the maids sat in sculptured silence when off piste, with a red light underneath indicating as much. This then turned green whenever they were needed by the script & off they would stroll into action. Excellent stagecraft indeed!
After the interval, enter the mistress into this ‘atmosphere of anxiety;‘ a jewel-choosing, catty-commenting cauldron of condescension. ‘You have your flowers, I have my sink, I am the maid,‘ says Solange, from which moment ensues the tempestuous double-cross which leads to quite an insane ending. En route, suspicion & intrigue abounds & one may trace the course of Genet’s musings, from the true source story of two maids murdering their employer in 1933, through the socially divisive paranoia of Nazi-occupied France. ‘Who are we really? Where are we really? What is real & what is an illusion?’ declared Eve Jamieson in her program notes, ‘is it possible for Solange & Claire to escape the real & imagined shackles that they believe have held them captive & become, finally, ‘beautiful, wild, free & full of joy?’
The Maids is a mind-bending, quite compelling invective-peppered parody of the wealthy mistress / lowly maid relationship, the actuality of which – in the hands of Genet – is a wee slingshot away from the plantations of Nat Turner’s Tennessee. It is fascinating to watch the stresses & strains of friendship, the caste-laden workplace & of a mistress – shouty, emotional, irresistible – insouciant to her workers’ needs. Here splurges the silent storm of hopeless lives & brainwaves starting to burst from the confusion of inadequate circumstance, from the stifling banality of the soul in servitude.
There was a lucid chemistry to the performance, forged from the experience of each of the actresses’ 18 years together as part of the Dundee Rep. While Irene Macdougall & Ann Louise Ross as the maids, & Emily Winter as the mistress all worked up a hurricane of entertainment, by the end I was staring boggle-eyed at the proceedings as the cruciate dangers of overactive imaginations reigned free.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Photography : Tommy Ga-Ken Wan