Giving a modern twist to a well-known play is a bold move and on the whole The Nomads of Bazar’s production of The Maids at the Greenwich Playhouse succeeds. The fusion of a contemporary setting with Jean Genet’s mid-20th-century writing is a clever way of bringing the text up-to-date and allows the audience to imagine how society might react if the story of the two sisters at the centre of the play were to be reported by today’s media.
In The Maids, two sisters, Solange and Claire are driven to the edge by the behaviour of their employer, Madame. She is controlling and manipulative and the sisters tag-team their revenge against her. Written in 1946, this tale of master and servants would have had profound relevance at the time (the Pappin sisters had murdered their employer and her daughter). Gael Colin’s direction and staging of this production is a neat way of portraying the sisters’ story to a 21st century audience. The use of a video camera by the sisters to film each other acting out their fantasies can be distracting at times. However, it is used particularly well at the end when Solange (strongly played by Emilija Ellen) documents her confession.
Emilija Ellen is ably supported by Irena Grgona as sister Claire. Their relationship develops well throughout the piece and we start to understand more how their behaviours affect each other. Jean Genet had a colourful personal life and his homosexuality is known to have informed his work. At times however the overtly sexual portrayal of the sisters’ relationship in this production detracts from Genet’s writing.
The Madame is a colourful character and Claire Spence portrays her as a modern day diva. Perhaps a little young for this role, Spence is nevertheless convincing as the girl who ‘has it all’, driving the sisters to maddening thoughts of revenge.
A simple design by Roberta Bratovic enables the contemporary take on the play to speak for itself. At the performance I attended, the lighting and sound appeared to be at odds with the action but once these technical difficulties are ironed out, they will enhance the overall production.
The Nomads of Bazar was set up only last year by the three actresses who star in The Maids and this is their first production. Following this debut, which seems so well suited to their talents, it'll be interesting to see what they turn their hands to next.