25 November 2018

Maids in Manchester

It's been on since Friday 16 November, but fear not as The Maids at HOME continues until Saturday 1 December and it's worth checking out, particularly if you're au fait with the play already. Showcasing a brand-new translation by Martin Crimp, this version of Les Bonnes by Jean Genet also features some interesting and innovative production devices - including webcams as mirrors and peepholes, Big Brother-esque big screens, subtitles à la Netflix detective series, and the first time the HOME theatre has been set up in the round.

This all helps to bring to life the story line about Madame's lover being in clink (which has seemed somewhat lost in other productions I've seen, but actually lies at the crux of the maids Claire and Solange's need to escape - it's not just to be free of the chains of their service, but to be free of the law once their plot is uncovered) and adds a completely new element - placing the play in the context of Genet having started to write it while he himself was behind bars. How would the audience know this otherwise, unless we had spent time beforehand studying (or Googling) him.

The set-up also (nicely, I think) brushes aside the five-page instructions "comment jouer Les Bonnes", which appears in the Folio edition I have, explaining what the set should look like, the facial expressions and gestures to be used, how the actresses should portray their parts... and that in itself is noteworthy in this Lily Sykes-directed run. Claire is played by Jake Fairbrother, Solange is courtesy Luke Mullins and Mistress (Madame) is Danny Lee Wynter: male leads taking on female characters, which is apparently how the playwright intended it, and which layers on even more role reversal and role playing than the simple story of the maids taking it in turns to pretend to be the master not the servant.

Jake Fairbrother (Claire) and Luke Mullins (Solange) in The Maids at HOME. Photo: Jonathan Keenan.

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