Friday 1 February 2019

The Maids - Midsumma Festival review

It was the brutal murders committed by sisters Christine and Léa Papin of their employer and her daughter in France in 1933 that inspired Jean Genet to write The Maids. In his play, two maids, Solange and Claire, fantasise about and role play murdering their Madame when she is away. Performed as part of the Midsumma Festival, Samuel Russo and Adam Ibrahim present a bold queer reimagining of the play that is still just as revealing about class divide and the way “Others” are perceived by society.

Russo and Ibrahim are in their element with this style of theatre, camping it up with some dazzling costumes, wigs and accessories while firmly establishing the relationship between the sisters and those around them. However, as we edge closer to Madame’s arrival, the show loses some if its momentum as the two actors begin to mirror each other’s energy and character and it feels like they're running out of steam. 

Once Artemis Ioannides appears as Madame, there is new life breathed into the production and it keeps riding this wave right up until the end. While Ioannides is only on stage for a short time, she demands the audience’s attention and you wish she’d come back for more. This isn’t her story though, and Ioannides serves her purpose marvellously, making evident the privileged life Madame leads and why her maids have so much hate for her.

The set design is also indicative of her opulence, with a lavish bedroom taking up the entire performing space, including a bed with seemingly expensive black silk sheets and an elaborate variety of clothes and jewels on either side of her raised “dressing room”. With most of the set pieces being a fiery red, including the rug, sofa, telephone, a dress and a pair of boots, there is the constant threat of passion, violence and anger being unleashed in this room.

A large poster of Madame on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine – describing her as one of the top pop icons of all time - hangs over the bed; a reminder of the power she holds over her two maids. This also plays with the idea of how observant Madame is with regards to how clean she demands her house is and ready to display her authority when she is not satisfied.

Doug McDowell's sound design and Jason Crick's lighting design is effective in supporting the mood of the maids and the circumstances they find themselves in. This is particularly strong within the final act when Solange and Claire are left alone once more, and everything spirals out of control. At one point, Ibrahim is basked in warm, radiant light with Russo and the rest of the stage is shrouded in harsh cold shade of light, signifying the divide between the two worlds.

It’s been over seventy years since The Maids was first performed. While it may have lost some of its shock value, its exploration of class divides and attitudes to those that are different are still highly relevant and Russo and Ibrahim successfully explore these themes with their production. The queerness that is present here adds some fire to the show and finds the opportunity to excite and surprise its audience while still giving them something to think about.

Venue: Brunswick Mechanic Institute, 270 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Season: Until 9 February | Wed- Sun 7:30pm
Tickets: $28 Full | $22 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival 

Photo Credit: Jacob Laird

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