Home » Reviews » Off West End » The Maids, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

The Maids, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Jean Genet
Directed by Paul Linghorn

Pros: Some powerful moments in the second half and a superb performance from Chris Stevenson.

Cons: A weak first half, and it feels like the team hasn’t completely ‘got to know’ the script yet, meaning that it lacks definition in some places.

Our Verdict: An ambitious and positive show from a young company (feats which should be applauded), but it needs more work in places to make it a true success.

Courtesy of Pandemonium Performance

Seeing work from new companies is always exciting, and as you know by now we get very animated about visiting new venues as well. Our first trip to the Lion and Unicorn theatre in Kentish town (a truly lovely pub venue) was to see this new production of Jean Genet’s The Maids. Coming to us from Pandemonium Performance, the script itself is a black comedy which, in my opinion, is a tremendously ambitious choice of genre for a young company. Combining laughter with, in this instance, a form of sadomasochism is not easy, and you really need to have immense skill to ensure that the balance between comedy and the darker elements is correct. Unfortunately, this production doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it contains some real promise; with a bit more work it could be very good.

The story itself is about two maids (and sisters) plotting to murder their oppressor, their mistress known only as ‘Madame’. Through role-playing, the maids fantasise about killing Madame when she isn’t there. It’s dark stuff, with themes of sadomasochism, class struggle and power running through the script. Sadly however, the production doesn’t have a strong enough interpretation of the text to give it a full identity. It seems somewhat timid around the subject matter and around the twisted relationship between the two sisters, and as a result it lacks energy and fails to extract the dark comedy from the script. For example, it wasn’t clear to me what the motivations of the maids were; were their fantasies designed to give them the ultimate sexual arousal, or were they more simply about refusing to be oppressed? The answer is open to interpretation, but it felt as if the performers were almost nervous of really going for it and embracing Genet’s twisted work.

Despite the above, The Maids is by no means a bad show; there are plenty of strong moments. Walking into the dark space to find two maids performing a slow ritual to heavy metal music in seductive red lighting was a powerful opening image. In fact the whole design from Linda Bloomfield was excellent; seedy, sensual and almost dungeon-like, it really helped to create a very sinister feel in places, especially when combined with Jamie Noel Duddy’s low-level and creepy lighting. Additionally, the performances themselves from Katy Mulhern and Kelly Costello were very good in places, and whilst the first half dragged quite badly (which may well have been a result of ‘first night nerves’), the second half was far better, with both actors exuding far more energy and far more sensuality. A special mention goes to Chris Stevenson, who was not far away from being the saviour of the show. His measured and brilliantly comic portrayal of Madame was a true highlight, and it was only from his entrance at the start of the second half that the performance really began to hit its stride.

So where does all this leave us? It had its moments, it was a brave and partially successful attempt at a challenging play, and the second half was in a different league to the first. Sadly however, it was let down by the fact that there is this underlying feeling that the creative team and the cast haven’t truly got to grips with Genet’s script. What I will say however, is that the company has potential, and that we will be paying keen attention to their future productions.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

The Maids runs at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until Saturday 21st July 2012.
Box Office: 08444 771 000  or book online at http://www.giantolive.com/themaids.html

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