Sydney Fringe Festival is a treasure trove of talent, a place where passion and storytelling converge. It's not just an excuse to go out with friends and enjoy a few drinks; it's an opportunity to discover hidden gems of storytelling. That Theatre Company, with its small but dedicated team, is a perfect fit for the festival, and their presentation of 'The Maids' by Jean Genet, translated by Bernard Frechtman, under the direction of David Halgren, proves just how captivating and enriching live theatre can be.
I was unaware of the show before seeing it and I made sure not spoil it for myself by looking up any synopses of it. The marketing line ‘Power. Privilege. Classism. And a plot to break free’ had me hooked from the get-go. Now that I’ve seen it, I’ve been able to do a bit more research as it fascinated me and I must say despite being nearly 80 years since first performed and while a lot of the conventions of servitude might seem foreign to a modern audience, “The Maids’ feels remarkably relevant to our current time. Highlighting the difference in class structures between the working class and the ultra-wealthy, this script brings up resentment that can build up between them. Director David Halgren has done a remarkable job bringing this script to life in an exciting and invigorating way and the trust that he shows his 3 superb actresses is paramount.
Director David has clearly kept his focus on exactly what he wants this absurd story to tell and has honed a fast pace rhythm to the show, that always feels like it’s building towards a climax, while just falling short from the final release, keeping you enthralled in the crazy world of The Maids story. Every look, every second of silence, every grab was carefully measured and added to the story and how these women saw themselves, and how they really sat in this World. I particularly loved the moment when the alarm clock rang out and all pretences were dropped from the girls for just a moment, before we were introduced to these characters again.
The two titular sister maids were played by Eleni Cassimatis and Samantha Lambert. The entire show rests on the chemistry between these two, a fast raport and a constantly shifting power struggle is key here. Luckily, these two phenomenal performers were up to the challenge. Eleni as the younger sister Clare, oozed a powerful charm and almost conceited arrogance at times, but was wonderfully contrasted to other moments of tangible fear and stoic acceptance. The finale of the play was handled well in her more than capable hands and provided a fitting end to a story that I had me guessing how it would end.
Samantha on the other hand, as Salonge the older sister had an unearthly manic energy that permeated her entire performance, creating a truly unpredictable and fantastical performance. Her monologue as a penultimate end to the show was as chilling as it was enthralling.
The two maids were joined by Hannah Raven playing Madame, the shallow turmoiled and casually cruel controller of the maids. Hannah truly shone in this role, her entrance brought different life to this production and the fear that the two maids felt in her presence was palpable. She truly felt bigger than life and embodied the opulence and the sleaze of the ultra-rich, tossing aside people’s emotions as easily as she tossed away her fur.
One other item that I would like to mention, is the set design. It was a static set but the intricacies of it were paramount. Stuffed to lavish excellence, the set felt like an extension of the Madame, and really solidified that the maids were in her world and not vice-versa. Also, a small note and definitely not the only reason to see the show, but the program, while small, is one of the best I have seen for a show.
I went into this production, not knowing what to expect, which is my preferred way of seeing theatre and That Theatre Company did not disappoint. I was truly immersed in the absolute absurdism of the piece, and these incredible performers had hooked from the very start. I give this production 4 & ½ cups of tea, served in the fine China.