The Riverfront, Newport
Weds 13 June
Words: Rachel Williams
Standing in The Riverfront’s foyer and the scene is already being set, as accordion player Joe Corbett wanders the open spaces, bringing the haunting world of The Maids and Jean Genet to our lives. Acclaimed as a commentary on social class and based on a brutal double murder, The Maids shocked the original audience with its stark portrayal of servant life and sickly sweet etiquette.
Solange (Olwen Rees) and Claire (Christine Pritchard) are servants and sisters in Madame’s house and are unable to escape their repetitive, poverty stricken lives. In those quite moments when Madame is away engaging with her friends and lover over music and champagne, the sisters are able to escape to a secret and savage world to play out an act they call The Ceremony. Swapping roles Claire becomes Madame and Solange becomes Claire: imitating themselves and Madame in a cruel, violent release of frustration, shame and of revenge against their mistress: dreaming up ways to kill her. The sister’s never complete The Ceremony, constantly interrupted by ordinary life, their own fear of failure and conscience. To close the play, Claire succumbs to a moment of mad clarity, adopting the role of Madame she demands the tea – knowing full well it contains an overdose of sleeping pills. Madame (Rosamund Shelley) is in complete contrast to her servants, as she glides through life with ease, melding an air of glamor with a vulnerable naivety, as she is also trapped, but in a male dominated world.
Traditionally the three characters are played by a younger cast but in casting older women director Erica Eirian has added a richer and far darker feel to the piece. Whereas a younger cast might give hope for the future, here there is strength of character, devotion to each other and their imagined task as Rees and Pritchard use their depth of experience to drive home the despair that even hope has gone now servitude has taken their whole lives. Unable to live individual lives as mother or lover the only viable escape is death.
You never quite figure out who is the stronger sister: at times both are as evil as they are loving and desperate As Claire appears weak and whimpering one moment only to egg Solange on the next, plotting their next move. Solange appears the stronger, never breaking and quick to anger but her devotion to Claire is un-paralleled: she would do anything for her.
The atmosphere created by the accordion and mezzo soprano Buddug Verona James is haunting and highly emotional. Opening the play, Buddug’s beautiful voice captures the essence of the anger, despair and pain laid out by the cast.
The Maids will be showing at The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven from Wed 20 – Sat 23 June. Tickets £8 Info: http://www.torchtheatre.co.uk / 01646 695 267