The Maids at the Donmar Warehouse [Venue information & Performances on here]
As you enter the theatre to see Jean Genet's
The Maids, an usher warns you to use the toilets beforehand - this production is two hours without an interval. As the play slowly unfolds, those 120 minutes seem to drag out to something much longer.
The story is about two sisters, maids in service to an overbearing mistress. The maids, resentful of their servitude and poverty compared to Our Lady's life of luxury, act out a secret ritual fantasy to murder Our Lady which soon(-ish) veers towards reality.
It is difficult to get a firm grasp on either of the sisters' characters - Claire (
Niamh Cusack) and Solange ( Kerry Fox of Shallow Grave fame). Both are so embittered - careening wildly from victimised to unpitying and conniving. Their feelings for Our Lady boil over into hatred of one another and deep self-loathing. Finally, it is difficult to feel any sympathy for their so-called plight and their thwarted plans for vengeance and escape.
Undoubtedly, both Cusack and Fox throw themselves energetically into their roles. But, despite their efforts, I was left confused by the revelation of deep-seated ill-will and past indiscretions. Who exactly wooed the milkman? Who was to blame for their current positions? Who indeed was the more evil and powerful of the two? Cusack is a bit more successful at the flighty turn of Claire's emotions, while Fox seems to plod along, scowling and menacing.
Josette Simon is most effective as Our Lady, overacting to perfection the self-centred and demanding mistress.
The set of Our Lady's bedroom is suitably sumptuous with a fairy tale feel to its proportions. Its textures and lighting match the mood of the play - heavy and intense. Unfortunately, the acting and storyline become too heavy, too intense, too relentless and, in the end, suffocate any emotion in the audience besides fatigue and a need to get to the toilet quick.
The Maids runs until 9 August.
Terri Paddock, July 1997