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A CurtainUp London London Review Review
The Maids
"Don't you dare laugh at my grandiloquence." — Claire
Uzo Aduba as Solange (Photo: Marc Bremmer)
Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton's new version of Jean Genet's 1947 absurdist play The Maids gets a Jamie Lloyd production at the Trafalgar Studios. Genet's play was based on the 1937 case in France of the Papin sisters, who together murdered their mistress and her daughter. The case was used to illustrate the oppression of domestic servants. The Papins worked 14 hour days with just halfa day a week off.

Jamie Lloyd's setting is in the Southern states of America with two black actors playing the maids Claire (Zawe Ashton) and Solange (Uzo Aduba). So as well as the servant master divide, we have a racial separation. The opening scene which has Claire in exaggerated makeup and a blonde wig, role playing the mistress as if she is mimicking Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara. Her sister insists she wears the McQueen red dress which appears from under flaps in designer Soutra Gilmour's parquet floor contained in a fourposter bed frame set which seems to be this year's "new thing" but may allude to the source of the bad-based wealth of the mistress as high class prostitute and criminal's moll.

There are at least three references to Jean Genet's first novel, written in prison, Notre Dame des Fleurs, the carpet of blossom on thestage which the sisters later sweep up, which returns in white for the entranceof the mistress, the allusions to the master being in prison and the discussion of sex and the use of sexual language. What is missing here is the Catholicism.

Solange playacting the maid rebels. Using the style and delivery of a Southern American preacher, she castigates her sister. Claire changes into her maid's outfit, removes the blonde wig and washes off the makeup in a sink revealed from the floor. In maid mode Solange is more feisty thanClaire as a maid, contrasting with themistress-servant roles they played in the first scene. They are anticipating the return of their mistress but first one of them takes a call saying the master will be releasedfrom prison. The sweeping of the petals keeps the "two sides of a square" action mobile so no one is blocked for too long.

The maids discuss murdering their mistress andplanting her on the roses in the garden while sucking on lollipops. Cue the entrance of the mistress (LauraCarmichael) to strident music from Ben and Max Ringham. She arrives in a fur coat, lit from behind and the impression I have is of the entrance of Cruella De Vil. She is just as sinister and fashion conscious,a silver dress, silver high heels and striped silver stockings to just above the knee.

The mistress seems to get the maids' names wrong andconfuses us all. She is shown to becontrary when she gives clothing to the maids only to later snatch itback. We feel the injustice of heractions, the abuse of power. Claire offers her mistress the tea laced with Nembutal. We wait while the tea gets cold and theycannot persuade the mistress to drink it. Hot from playing Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey,Laura Carmichael lords it over her domestic servants.

The final scene has the two maids again playing mistress and maid as Claire calls the other one Claire. There are many opportunities to laugh in this production although of course the whole play isdiscomforting. Although all threeperformances are impressive, it is Uzo Aduba, known for the Netflix seriesOrange is the New Black, who gives the tour de force as Solange. I think the new setting works but I am unsure about the grossness of the language as the maids denigrate whoever is the current underdog. Go and seeThe Maids, not for the adaptation, but for those elementsJ amie Lloyd has created!

The Maids
Written by Jean Genet
Adapted by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Starring Zawe Ashton, Uzo Aduba, Laura Carmichael
Designed by Soutra Gilmour
Lighting: Jon Clarke
Composition and Sound: Ben and Max Ringham
Movement: Polly Bennett
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Runningtime: One hour 55 minutes without an interval
Box Office 0207492 0810
Booking to 21st May 2016
Reviewed byLizzie Loveridge based on 27th February 2016 performance at the TrafalgarStudios, Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
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