THE MAIDS The Space at Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh


From time to time, the seeker for cultural enlightenment must deliberately book in to the works of some author he or she can’t see the point of. For some its Beckett, for others Sarah Kane, for many the excitement faded (forty years ago actually) for the knottier French existentialists.  For me it’s Jean Genet , ragamuffin darling of the 1960s intellectual left and subversive prophet of the “beauty of evil”. So, in a spirit of hopeful generosity, I staggered off the Caledonian Sleeper for my first Fringe outing to see what All Bare theatre made of this, described once as “a poisoned pearl”, and revived a few years ago in New York with Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert, no less. It’s that sort of play: the kind actors challenge themselves with for intellectual credibility.
Genet took inspiration from a 1940s case where two maidservants brutally murdered and mutilated their employers. His black-stockinged maids – who clearly don’t have much housework to get on with – spend 75 gruelling minutes in role-play, switching names (one is Claire and one is Solange) and they each take random turns at impersonating the employer, who also briefly appears.
In eloquently contemptuous speeches – Martin Crimp translates -they play and taunt, one forcing the other to crouch spitting and polishing her patent shoes and then despising her very spittle. Sometimes Claire, or possibly Solange, gets overwrought about the rise and fall of the mistresses “ivory” breasts. Often they boast of being capable of murder. Bizarre statements of stoned poetic import are made –  that the image in the mirror has a ‘stench’ , that objects accuse them. Neither seems fond of the other , or sounds much like a real woman, and both hate and revere the mistress. She despises them. Its socialist-capitaIst resentment of the servant relationship: none of your Downton Abbey stuff.

Crowdfunded, played with dedication by the three young cast, it is a waste: one of those determinedly academic exercises which never quite gets within striking distance of any truth or pleasure.   Even as a curiosity of theatre history it is pretty dated: its appeal (Think Blanchett and Huppert) is faile social indignation and candy for the male gaze – French maids outfits, breasts, say no more . Si no, I still don’t get the point. But I did try. Honest.
to 22 aug.
Rating: two  2 meece rating


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