REVIEW by OSCAR PERRI
For a small theatre group there is a lot of sense to take on Jean Genet’s 1947 play The Maids, with only a single set and just the three characters to attend to.
But the nuance required by this minimalism, and the demands it presents the director and performers, make it an ambitious undertaking for which Totem Theatre deserve to be commended.
Most of the play solely revolves around two sisters, Claire and Solange, ritualistically escaping reality as a means of surviving their lives of servitude, roleplaying versions of their imaginations of the life of their Madame and her mysterious imprisoned lover Monsieur.
With Claire dressing in Madame’s evening wear, the act always returns to the maids playing out their fantasy of murdering as revenge for their mistreatment and humiliation. Though tension builds as to whether it is just role play, or in fact a rehearsal.
There is much ambiguity to the author’s intended meaning, which carries through to the play’s conclusion.
There is no moment of clarity to let off the tension developed throughout The Maids, nothing to steer the audience home to a definitive meaning behind what they have witnessed, leaving much to interpretation.
Actors Betty Sweetlove (Claire) and Kirryn Wilkinson (Solange) had good chemistry throughout their scenes together, the two characters in an ever changing dynamic that was quite well portrayed.
One always playing the cool, rational head in conversation and the other overtaken by passion and mania, with regular swapping between which of the sisters played what mood, though the rational player always had a touch of mania to their part as well, as the façade of rationality fell away and absurdity took over as we got deeper into the story.
This actively displays the pair’s shared delusion, though it was difficult to stay focussed on the confusing dialogue with little action or story development, and no new characters introduced before the intermission.
The introduction of the genteel Madame, played by Crystal Pollitt, was a little disappointing.
The decision to portray the character as a ditzy comic relief let off a lot of the tension that the other two had laboriously built in the first half.
Though this trailed away the more she was on stage, and the tension returned, she made excellent use of the space and props to re-engage and reinvigorate the audience as the story heated up in the second half.
The set and costume were very typical to the play’s original setting, 1949 Paris, aside from the clownish, marionette-like makeup that all three characters were wearing, adding to the absurdity of the story and lending them an appearance like children’s toys.
Stepping into the theatre was like walking through a portal to Brunswick, one of Melbourne’s trendiest suburbs: The seats were packed with cool young professionals, all familiar with one another, chatting in eager anticipation of the play. This presented an interesting lens through which to view a play about imaginative escapism.
Totem Theatre have presented a very traditional rendition of The Maids, maybe missing an opportunity to bring it into the context of Alice Springs, a place ripe with complicated themes and social dynamics.
Nevertheless the play is well put together, and has a great capacity to force an audience to think, and come to their own conclusion about what they’ve seen.
No doubt it’s one to spark conversation on the drive home, always an excellent quality of a good production.
PHOTO: Cast members Kirryn Wilkinson, director Steve Kidd, Crystal Pollitt and Betty Sweetlove.