Brighton Fringe 2009
New Venture Theatre
Venue: The New Venture Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Two sisters Claire and Solange dream of escaping their humdrum life working as maids for the Madame of the house. To them, it’s almost like being in prison and together indulge in fantasies (which almost become sexual) about killing the Madame, in order to have a better life.
Three prisoners in a cell vie with each other to see who is the better person to be ‘top dog’, by comparing crimes they’ve committed. One of them is already waiting to be executed and is already the leader of the gang. Secrets are unearthed as the night progresses, which lead to fatal consequences.
:When the audience walked in, we were presented with a set that was almost like walking into a Hollywood film – glamourous drapes, dressing tables, white flowers and dresses on a bed of silver satin sheets. But despite this glamour, it was very simple and no complications were there, which made the whole thing beautiful to take in. The audience’s reactions to it were ‘stylish’, ‘lavish’ and ‘elegant’ to quote some of them.
A very strong start to the piece emerged as two women took to the stage in shadow – one an elegant lady and the other a maid very suggestively caressing her washing up gloves standing behind her. This indicated at first as the dialogue went on, that the lady of the house and the maid had an unusual kinky working relationship – especially as the maid then switched status getting some kind of revenge on her mistress for treating her badly. It was only when we heard an alarm clock going off, an abrupt change of lighting took place and the two women started calling each other ‘sister’ then we realised that this was Claire and Solange, the maids of the house. The journey that they went on was a very intense rollercoaster as they planned their campaign to free themselves from the prison of the house.
Solange (played by the Lyn Fernee) demonstrated a lot of depth of character as she swiftly went from mocking submissive, to mother figure to her sister Claire, then turned the tables as she became like a dominatrix in her behaviour towards the end of the play (especially when a riding crop came into play!) as her anger towards Madame became more and more evident. It was fascinating to watch her journey and witness a startling climax as she lets her fantasy become more vivid in a challenging monologue detailing all three characters’ deaths in the aftermath. This is an actress to watch out for in future performances.
Sarah Charsley plays the innocent younger sister Claire, who wants her moment to be the murderer rather than her sister taking all the credit for it. At first, when she plays the ‘Madame’ in the opening sequence, some of the lines become rushed and sound like she’s constantly asking a question at the end of every sentence, but as the performance progresses, she lets herself become the character and therefore, very interesting to watch. Her paranoia builds up extremely well as she worries her sister is going to steal the glory of the murder and one really feels for her as she becomes excited about the outcome and what she will do if her sister doesn’t do the job well.
The Madame though is a character to watch out for. Played with such passion and vigour by Anna Bolwell, the audience saw why the maids wanted to be free of her as she was condescending and extremely arrogant in her behaviour towards them. However the way she was portrayed, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her – she is almost like a little girl in her behaviour. But she is also a dreamer and romantic at heart and we got a good insight to this when she tried to calm herself down after hearing her beau is out of prison.
The chemistry between all three was electrifying. However, even though the two maids worked well together on their own, there were times when they could have slowed down to maintain the power within their bizarre role-playing. Apart from that, a really good attempt at an extremely difficult play.
From the lavish Hollywood set, we saw the guard of a prison remove the drapes in front of our eyes to see a complete contrast – a stark prison cell. The set was very deceptive as we saw the double bed being separated and swung round on wheels to create two single beds. This was an extremely good use of the set.
Again a strong start as we see a violent fight breaking out between two inmates, to being broken up by the top dog of the cell Green Eyes (played by Sam Parsons). What then emerged was an intense exploration of who should be in charge, death and again a murder being planned. It is similar to The Maids in terms of a murder and death, but what makes the two plays overlap is the fact that escapism and fantasy is rife throughout imprisonment. In this case, the inmates fuse fantasy and reality as tensions in the dynamic of the friendship of these men continue to increase. Homophobia, accusations of being deceptive and secrets are revealed as the night progresses.
Unfortunately on this occasion, there were more moments of rushing the lines, monotony in the tone of the voices as well as unclear definitions of who was in power. In this instance, Green Eyes was the main culprit of this. He’s a character who cannot be rushed, is unpredictable and yet is an overall protector of the men. Sam Parsons despite this setback portrayed him well and really showed his torment when he decided not to see his girlfriend when she comes to visit him. He tries to put on an act of not caring, resigning himself to his fate of execution, but deep down we could tell he was hurting. I would have liked to have seen him slow down a little more in places and be a little more assertive in his behaviour though to let us see that he was the one in control.
Lefranc (played by Nik Hedges) was a great character to watch as he came across as the quiet one who secretly had an agenda to be the one in charge. We couldn’t take his eyes off him as he carefully chose his words when he described his crime and kept quiet about who he knew in the criminal world. Nik’s performance was so nicely underplayed that the audience found themselves drawn to him and wanted to know more. Yet again though, there were times when he rushed some of the lines, so some of the words were missed. His working partnership with Jack Bridgewater (Maurice) was good and the fight scenes which led to Maurice’s death were staged extremely well and very naturalistic.
In complete contrast, we had the young vibrant energy of Jack Bridgewater. This is definitely an actor to watch out for as he showed the almost puppy dog behaviour of someone who wanted to impress, yet was a deliberate antagoniser. The way he manouvered situations to his advantage in order to get reactions out of the other two men was handled very well and the fact that he was the joker of the pack came through. But the innocent remark which leads to Maurice’s death is a nice contrast to what we see beforehand and just shows Jack’s potential to grow into a great actor.
Mark Green as the guard is also worthy of a mention. He shows a different side to the prison and what goes on outside the cell – corruption is not just within inmates circles…
As a whole for the evening, in many ways it would have been better to show the two plays on separate evenings rather than all in one go, because of the late finish to the evening. But the positive side is that by showing the two plays side by side, we see how the two overlap as aforementioned. It does need a little more work in places in terms of speed, pace and variety in tone, but overall it is a very enjoyable evening.