The Maids - Sydney Fringe Festival (NSW)
Presented as part of Sydney Fringe Festival. Written by Jean Genet. Directed by David Halgren.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Meraki Arts Bar - Meraki Mainstage
12th-16th September, 2023
- Dark, sexual and off putting, That Theatre Co reaches for the skies in their inaugural season -
Playwright Jean Genet’s The Maids continues to be alluring for both actors and directors alike due to its unrelenting commentary on freedom and oppression, its sexual almost sadomasochistic overtones and the unforgiving pull between master and servant. Genet, himself a gay playwright who spent time behind bars and lived amongst Palestinian refugees, knew all too well the murky world of the oppressed, and those who oppress. As part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, That Theatre Co. brings Genet’s The Maids to Meraki Bar in all its sadistic glory.
Eleni Cassimatis and Samantha Lambert bring to life sisters Claire and Solange, two maids who have worked for years under the twisted servitude of Hannah Raven’s Madame. The pair of sisters, whilst in domestic servitude, enact ceremonial impersonations of their mistress, creating fantasies about master and servant, giving each the turn to sway power over the other. Lately, the fevers have become darker, murkier, bloodier. Solange’s idea of murder of their mistress might offer the sisters a way to freedom, but how can this be when their lives have been lived as the lesser?
Director David Halgren creates the most decadent set seen on the Meraki Mainstage since its opening. Luxurious burgundies and creams adorn the stage, from Madame’s rack of luxurious clothing (Ian Warwick), through to the dressing table of jewellery and large bed. Whilst taking in the richness, your eyes rest on a hat rack adorned with sexual ornaments - whips, chains and handcuffs. It hints at something much more sadistic under Madame’s riches.
Cassimatis’ rich, booming voice fills the stage from the first line as the sisters enact their daily ritual. It’s off-putting at first, the overdramatisation of the whole situation plays off like a Days of Our Lives spin-off before the act is dropped and sisters are subdued in their lower roles. Halgren directs with a steady hand to balance the two worlds they inhabit.
As the younger sister, Lambert works to match Cassimatis’ energy and natural power, succeeding in the moments she gets to play master. At other times Halgren directs Solange’s journey to be overdramatic, struggling to match the avant-garde with the naturalistic feel of the dramaturgy undertaken.
Where Halgren’s direction succeeds is in his balance of play when Raven’s Madame enters the room. The atmosphere becomes charged, flowing the idealisation of murder underneath the energy of the scene. Raven dismisses the two maids with a sharp quip or off-handed comment. The mind games played on the two women are shown in its full form, with Raven giving the term “Gaslighting” a human form.
In such an intimate space, Cassimatis and Lambert manoeuvre the set with ease, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in the Maids’ world. Cassimatis brings a sensual nature to Claire, with a fixed stare and curved strong lip of strength that is draped over a fragility which breaks down as the play hurtles towards its ending. Lambert shines in the sadistic nature of the games played by the pair, highlighting Solange’s desire for freedom.
That Theatre Company’s The Maids is dark, sexual and off putting in the best way. Come for the decadence of the set and stay for some electrically charged performances.
Plan your Sydney Fringe this September by heading to their website for the extensive list of what's on offer. Visit: https://sydneyfringe.com/whats-on/