The Maids – Review HOME Manchester

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

For the first time in HOME history they’ve gone and ripped out seats in their main theatre space and built a brand-new, in-the-round auditorium. That’s the kind of brass neck, I don’t give a monkey’s, I’m gonna just tear up the textbook and raise a rebellious fist in the air behaviour that suggests that The Maids should be something extra special.

There is something about in-the-round auditoriums when it comes to the theatre. It exposes the actors to the audience, forcing them to wilfully submit to the scrutiny of the watcher, where a stage may be more forgiving in their performances. Equally it allows the audience a special vantage in the production, to immerse themselves within the confines of the performance itself as if they are an integral part taking their place as the drama unfolds.

It is this uniqueness that designer Ruari Murchison decided to channel in HOME’s current offering of the Jean Genet classic, The Maids. The play’s author has a rather notorious chequered history that always seems to strike a chord with most people within the arts. The son of a prostitute who ended up as a vagabond and a petty criminal before turning to writing and political activism and who may or may not have been the subject of David Bowie’s Jean Genie. It’s hardly surprising he became a popular figure in the literary world with that kind of resume.

The Maids is one of his early works that is loosely based on infamous sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933. It is a mind bendingly machination of scenes from the macabre mind of Genet, in which sisters, Solange and Claire, end up playing out a series of sadomasochistic role plays in which they enact out the murder of their mistress. The plot changes at a frenetic pace, interchanging the bouts of fantasy and reality that has you questioning exactly who is who and what is actually real.

It’s an ambitious play to produce and you can now see why HOME went to the lengths of fundamentally altering their own DNA in order to put on Genet’s classic play. Murchison’s in-the-round auditorium and set is a triumph and there is much to be said of Lily Sykes’ innovative direction that encompasses many different ways of telling a story on stage. There is also deserving plaudits for Lighting Designer Zoe Spurr, whose use of light adds a wonderful dimension to the drama that ensues.

However, the secret to any good magic trick isn’t the the razzmatazz, or the sleight of hand or the cunning misdirection but the trick itself that leaves the audience amazed at what they have seen. Likewise, the new set, the direction, the mood music, the ambient lighting are mere props. What truly bedazzles the viewer is the calibre of acting that is needed to bring the bewildering story to a level of breathtaking brilliance.

Jake Fairbrother as Claire and Luke Mullins as Solange play the demented sisters for all its demonic worth. Their chemistry is a joy to behold, as they seamlessly intertwine their performance in a mesh of menacing magnificence. Danny Lee Wynter plays the Mistress, in what is a deliciously devilish demonstration of delightfulness and utterly compelling.

Some theatre productions are meant to be enjoyed in sitting back as if you are on a beach and allowing the lavishness of the production to wash over you like waves on a shore. Some theatre productions, however, are the complete opposite, having you dangle on a ledge as you feel like your footing is about to give way and you are about to hurtle 30 storeys to your deathly fate. That’s what The Maids is, constantly messing with you and making you question what you are watching, what to believe and by the end just hoping it never ever ends!

Verdict: HOME have undergone a radical transformation in order to bring you Jean Genet’s classic story of a pair of murderous sisters in what is a truly mind bendingly macabre machination that is marvellously mind-blowing!

What: The Maids
Where: HOME Manchester
When: 24th November 2018

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