A modern struggle, originally written in 1947, is linked through a vigorous script to contemporary political dilemmas. One can believe that a masterpiece sits within the particular context of a period of time. But this adaptation is firm proof that social conflicts repeat through history in spite of new “movers and shakers”. Allusions to fashion designers, to the concept of terrorism and to the hassle of immigration, visas and passports, make us believe that this story is written in the 21st century.
Two absorbing actresses perform two Turkish sisters who are housemaids: Claire (Irem Sayilgan) and Solange (Ada Burke). Although their existence is a continuous game moving between playacting and reality, the ups and downs of their sisterly relationship is naturally a universal reference. I felt personally connected to their stormy relations as sisters, as women, as colleagues. Comings and goings between envy, loathing and sacrifice but chiefly between collusion and love.
The story happens in the house where they work and live. The two maids spend their private time playing at killing the Mistress. The house is their game zone but at the same time it is a place that kills their spirits. You can see that they are pigeonholed in a wealthy universe. However, this atmosphere is not portrayed in the set design, which is built with ordinary props and furniture.
The third character is sound. The Mistress is never embodied in the flesh, but is simply sound. There is a crumpled photo on the stage, which I feel is redundant. We can perfectly imagine what she looks like without an image. She is a stereotype. Through her wardrobe we can imagine what she is wearing; through her voice, her manners, her lame misfortunes, her phony charity spirit we can create a portrait of her. This accurate technical decision makes the character less personal and less human.
The play´s main language is Turkish, so if you don´t speak the language I suggest asking an usher for the best place to see the surtitles. Some areas of the surtitles are lost behind hanging props, and there is also a technical problem with the brightness of the fonts (Editor’s note: following this performance, the set was adjusted to resolve these issues).
The play addresses the topic of immigration and the lines switch between English and Turkish. At the beginning it is confusing to follow both reading and listening, but in peak moments I felt that the struggle to understand the language actually enriched the experience. The exercise illustrated how immigrants sometimes fight to be understood or express their emotions in a new language.
This is a play where I want to laugh at some lines but, since it was loaded with political content, felt uncomfortable and wrong even just smiling. So I ended up crying with Claire and Solange.
Original Author: Jean Genet
Director: Bariş Celiloglu
Box Office: 020 7704 2001
Booking Link: https://www.unrestrictedview.co.uk/the-maids-by-jean-genet/
Booking Until: 18 January 2020