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The Maids

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

4 stars

When director and designer Stewart Laing comes onstage two thirds of the way through his production of Jean Genet’s elegantly brutal power play to take questions from the audience during the set change, it sums up every deconstructed moment that preceded it. Laing may have obeyed Genet’s gender-bending maxim that all parts in his flight of fancy about two maids who role-play their mistress’s decadence be played by young male actors, but he takes things much further.

The noises of war open the show, as the stage curtain is painstakingly raised, lowered and moved backwards and forwards in an extravagantly choreographed performance of its own. Three seated young men rehearse a Metallica song on electric guitars, before performing it before projected footage from Vietnam. Later, against a perfect reproduction of the stage’s actual back wall, Scott Reid, Ross Mann and Samuel Keefe play songs by the Velvet Underground and David Bowie before tearing emotional chunks out of each other as sisters Solange and Claire and their Mistress. Their self-destructive, sado-masochistic nihilism resembles a 1990s in-yer-face play.
One scene replicates a rehearsal room read-through. Genet himself makes an appearance by way of an infamous 1985 TV interview when he turned the tables on the crew and subverted the artificial construction of the situation.

All of which questions the nature of performance itself in Martin Crimp’s razor-sharp contemporary translation. Notions of reality and artifice are pushed to the limit in a pop-art hybrid that is part gig, part multi-media happening, part installation. It’s relentlessly and radically sustained, right down to the final, wonderfully unexpected musical interlude, and no, it’s not The Jean Genie.
The Herald, January 21st 2013

ends

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