Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed 14 September)
Have you ever fantasised about murdering your boss? Claire and Solange certainly have, a couple of saucy maids in 1940s Paris under employment to a vain and intolerable mistress. They engage in sadomasochistic role-playing to purge their urges and gain gratification for her suffering. It’s the stuff of sensationalised news stories.
The script by French playwright Jean Genet and translated by Bernard Frechtman gives plenty of juice and vice to contend with. Director David Halgren from That Theatre Company writes in the show’s program it took him a good 15 years to even approach it. The result is terrifyingly beautiful and exquisite. On entering Meraki Mainstage where this play is performed, one immediately walks into the bedroom scene, completely furnished in head to toe with plush vintage linen, cushions, accessories, a vanity table, lavish dresses and shoes. There is a tingle in the air. We are about to witness a murder.
The actors have their work cut for them to get through the voluptuous script. Words are projected with fierce intention. There is vocal maturity that could be tempered by resonance. However, the facial expressions make up for this, revealing the maids’ folie à deux (madness shared by two). Eleni Cassimatis is Claire and Samantha Lambert is Solange, skilfully navigating the power dynamics between dominance / submissiveness, teasing out the foreplay of how they will murder their mistress, played by Hannah Raven with striking stage presence. The dramatic irony uttered by Madame as the maids are scrutinised with shrewd observation elevates the tension to breaking point. Raven incarnates Devil Wears Chanel and it’s a shame they don’t have more scenes. I liked them a lot.
Costume design by Ian Warwick is impeccable and immerses us fully into the era. Lighting design by Ricci Costa complements the set’s attention to detail. Haunting music with a twist of Chopin accents the drama, creating an ache for an exquisite release.
Overall, The Maids is a challenging, seductive and brave production that makes you unwittingly enjoy the voyeurism. Once that door closes, there’s no turning back.
The Maids presented by Sydney Fringe Festival is playing at Meraki Arts Bar til 16 September. For tickets and showtimes, go to https://sydneyfringe.com/events/the-maids/
Image credit: Becky Matthews