Based on the true crime story of the murderous duo Claire and Solange Papin, The Maids explores the relationship between reality and ‘the game’. The object of the ‘game’ – to kill the mistress. The only problem, the mistress isn’t real, the only thing tangible throughout the hour and a half of chaos that ensues is the myriad of emotions experienced by the full 499 capacity audience.
The sisters, Claire and Solange, are loosely based on the Papin sisters of Le Mans who murdered their mistress Léonie Lancelin and their daughter Genevieve. However, in Genet’s tale of events, Claire, Solange and the Mistress are one and the same. Sykes directorial debut saw a whirlwind of genius encapsulated in a modern way, far beyond what Genet would’ve envisioned in the 1940s, but it works. To create an atmosphere where fear is the prevalent emotion is a difficult feat in the twenty first century when horror is a fan favourite genre. Sykes manages to generate fear through mundane everyday objects and activities, camomile tea now being the thing that terrifies me more than anything. The way Sykes uses fear to turn everyday into horror is genius; it makes you as an audience member feel as though if you were spotted in your seat. you would have been in genuine danger.
The dualities in Genet’s writing are massively evident in the way Sykes chooses to portray The Maids. The concepts of love/hate are clear in the heavy relationship between all characters involved. More strikingly the theme of reality/illusion comes out on top. The play opens with a screen confessing that the characters Genet creates “may be him or they may not be. You’ll never know” and more worryingly, telling the audience that the characters are “men. They are not women,” but the way Jake Fairbrother, Danny Lee Wynter and Luke Mullins portray themselves as women, makes you question everything you think is certain when you enter the performance space.
Everything we are ever taught about standard theatre is turned it on its head. The Maids takes life and turns it upside down, the research I had done in preparation for seeing this was pointless; reading about this play and the story behind it gave me some security, as I understood that this wasn’t your standard play. But the word standard couldn’t be any more of an understatement. Before the play had even started, and the audience weren’t all there, three characters appeared from behind the stage in yellow boiler suits and started messing with the audience, interacting with them in ways that shouldn’t be allowed, but you’re so glad they did. It ads a touch of humour that is dashed throughout the play to remind you that this play (although based on a true story) is a fictitious event, because you are so engrossed with what’s going on you forget that you are part of the audience.
Everything about this play is immense from the weird and wonderful start to the heart-breaking and perfectly calculated ending. The way these 3 men are brought together on stage just works phenomenally, and the brilliance of Sykes comes together to produce the most spectacular piece of theatre I have ever seen. The way Fairbrother and Mullins use their relationship to command the stage is something I’ve never seen done in such a fantastic way. Equally the times that Wynter isn’t on the stage I was still thinking about his character and the way he took charge of everyone watching him. The smells, the props and the fast-paced environment that The Maids take place in are still prevalent in my mind. I was thinking about this play from the second it ended, and I can’t get it out of my head, everything that happened in the 90 minutes are stuck in a part of my brain I’ve never had access to, and that feeling is so rare in theatre.
To put this simply: you need to see The Maids.
The Maids is playing at HOME theatre until 1 December. For more information and tickets, click here.