On Monday night, I was graciously invited to the press night of The Maids by Jean Genet and starring Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eye from Orange is the New Black in case you didn't recognize her by her name). Although I hadn't heard of the play, any time someone gives me a pair of tickets to a West End show, I'm totally on it.
Going into the play, neither I, nor my plus one (who happened to be my old housemate from Leicester) really knew what to expect. I had briefly read that the show was written postwar France, but clearly it has had a modern facelift.
The plot of the play is simple, but the nuances and layers are not. It is based loosely on the 1933 case of Christine and Lea Papin, a pair of sisters who worked as maids in a French village. One evening, the "man of the house" came home to find his wife and daughter, their employers, hacked to death on the ground, the sisters confessing to their murder.
While The Maids doesn't deal with gruesome violence, the entire show is like a rehearsal for the murder they are waiting to commit. The sisters struggle with their lot in life as domestics, their hatred for their employer and their fantasies of both killing their mistress and overcoming their station.
This version, at the Jamie Lloyd Theatre Company, is a 2013 translation of the original. Because of the casting of two black women in the role of the maids (Uzo in the role of Solange, the older sister, and Zawe Ashton as her younger sister, Claire) and their assumed American accents, I thought the play might take a turn on the pre-Civil Rights era American class and race system. Then, most black women lived their lives as domestics, and since the play seems to be devoid of any specific mention of time or place, it made sense. However, when the Mistress entered with her decidedly American, but not southern accent, costumed in an outfit reminiscent of the upper class of the 1990s, I realized that wasn't the case.
But that doesn't mean the piece doesn't leave a lot for one to think about, particularly without a time and place, it means it can be set anywhere at any time, which can truly be the scary part.
The triumph of the piece was the acting, with all three women (Laura Carmichael of Downton Abbey starred as the Mistress) taking on their roles with force, showing their extreme talents. However, it is of course Uzo that really won me over (not that I needed much convincing). She is truly one of the most talented actresses I have ever had the pleasure to see perform.
And when the Orange is the New Black comes back, I'll be bragging that I sat two feet away from her, as we were placed in the front row of the audience!
Although I was encouraged to take pictures before the show, there wasn't much light around the theatre, so I decided against it. We were generously invited to an after-party with the cast and crew, but as I'm still grappling with my health and my plus one has a baby at home, we decided to go home after the show, both still thinking about the play well after it was over.
The Maids runs a limited engagement until May 21 at Tralfagar Studios in London. Tickets £15-£70. More information about tickets here.