Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Two maids play a game of murder. Their mistress doesn’t know the half of it. Sisters Claire and Solange play out their dark fantasies of domination and humiliation, playing that soon turns to plotting. But is escapism enough of an escape? Is escape even possible?
Genet based his play The Maids on the fantasy role-play games of two maids, Clare and Solange, portrayed here to chilling effect by the very talented Kay Dent and Jasmine Freeman. As servants to “the Mistress”, their dull existence is brightened only when bickering with each other or dressing up as the Mistress, taking advantage of her frequent absences from the house to act out sinister scenarios plotting her murder and that of her small-time criminal lover.
Genet’s flowing prose takes us quickly to a point somewhere between reality and the surreal. Like many of Shakespeare’s more labyrinthine plots, the play veers between one state and the other until you are left wondering just who and what is real and who and what is fantasy. It would be so easy to lose the audience early on (and never get them back) but Dent and Freeman clearly delineate the characters in their fantasies, their enunciation is as clear as crystal and the astute use of silence, body posture and accents makes for a quite memorable piece of storytelling.
Whichever is acting out the role of the Mistress oozes narcissism and condescension so when she whom they both live to serve finally appears about forty minutes into the action, it’s like seeing a third version of the same character. The addition of this third character also adds the potential of a further two duologues which Genet uses to the full, deepening the plot and the intrigue.
The frustration for the viewer (no doubt intended by Genet) is that the meticulous, almost obsessive attention to detail of the sisters as they act out their murder scenarios means they never actually get to the denouement before the target of their plotting returns and demands her slippers, her bath, her camomile tea or whatever.
Genet has this uncanny ability to make his audience feel uncomfortable and this came across very strongly through the performance of the three actors with the third, Georgia Bradley as the Mistress, managing to have the audience both hate her for her patronising, spoilt-upper class approach to life as well as feel a modicum of pity for her and her apparently inevitable fate.
With the denouement providing a chilling twist to this seventy-five minute adaptation based on Martin Crimp’s excellent translation, this makes for a high class start to anyone’s Fringe day. Just watch out next time you’re in a hotel though – you never know what these maids are up to behind your back.