I think I have to confess straight away that I don't think I was quite in the right frame of mind for The Maids. It had been a really hectic, demanding day at work - it's been a hectic and demanding few weeks in fact. I felt frazzled as I sat down in my on stage seat.
Described on the Jamie Lloyd Production company website as a 'full-throttle production' it is performed with a heightened tension and energy throughout, there is no first, second or even third gear.
The Maids is a translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton of Jean Genet's 70-year-old play which was based on real events in 1930's Paris when a maid killed her employer. In this version the action is transferred to America and in casting Zawe Ashton (Claire) and Uzo Aduba (Solange) as the sisters who work as maids it becomes a play not just about class prejudice but also racism.
In the opening scene, Claire is wearing a blond wig and a slip, stomping around the stage like a queen bitch, ordering Solange about who simpers, flatters and pampers. It becomes quickly obvious that this is a game they play, a role-play that gets repeated but which always ends up with brutal revenge being enacted.
The role-play is slowly revealing and about the only thing that is slow. How much of what is revealed by the maids is real and how much is fantasy is unclear until you realise that their game is actually a rehearsal. If only their mistress (a fantastically un Lady Edith-like Laura Carmichael in knicker-skimming short skirt, shoulder pads and fur gilet) would return.
The problem was that with the drama at almost hysterical pitch throughout there is little light and shade, no where for the actors to go. My frazzled brain couldn't take it I'm afraid and I found it exhausting (and occasionally irritating) to watch, probably as exhausting as it is to perform and I certainly can't criticise the commitment of the performances.
Maybe in a different frame of mind I'd have got more out of it but for this visit it's getting three stars. You can catch it at the Trafalgar Studios until 21 May.