Theatre review - The Maids, HOME, Manchester

Jake Fairbrother and Luke Mullins as The Maids at HOME in Manchester. Picture: Jonathan Keenan

Jake Fairbrother and Luke Mullins as The Maids at HOME in Manchester. Picture: Jonathan Keenan - Credit: Archant

David Upton, on a rare opportunity, at HOME in Manchester, to see Jean Genet’s ambiguous play about the murderous intent of two maidservant sisters towards their mistress.

Claire and Solange weave their fantasies around role-playing the parts of killer and victim, in a work that Jean Genet wrote whilst in prison nearly 70 years ago.

It’s thought he based it, in part, on the notorious Papin sisters who killed their employer’s wife and daughter in France in the 1930s. But then nothing is ever quite as it seems in a play that delights in bending dramatic convention and is given heightened theatricality here with use of video projection, and other alienation techniques.

Indeed the whole of the HOME main stage space has virtually been turned inside out to create a circus-like ring, up above the auditorium, with the audience encircling the action. Before curtain-up the three performers stalk among theatregoers, teasing and provoking.

Just for good measure, all three roles are taken by men. Jake Fairbrother and Luke Mullins as the sisters, Danny Lee Wynter as their mistress.

Young English director Lily Sykes is evidently steeped in the style of German theatre and it shows, as the play criss-crosses the line between make believe and reality, to act out a complex relationship involving power and subservience, violence and tenderness.

In reality however it’s since been superceded by any number of other plays, not least among them Enda Walsh’s darkly-hilarious Walworth Farce in which three men act out their own frantic family drama on a daily basis.

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Nowadays The Maids seems only to strain at its own leashes, tied to a style of theatre that has been overtaken by other ground-breaking work.

It will appeal here as a collector’s item amongst some theatregoers, or to a younger generation who might be vaguely aware of its author’s connection to David Bowie’s Jean Genie lyrics . . .

He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls.

Jean Genie, let yourself go . . .

The Maids runs to December 1.