Theatre Review: The Maids

It’s not easy to hold and actively engage the audience with a small cast and static, un-changing set, but The Maids brilliantly succeeds

It’s not easy to hold and actively engage the audience with a small cast and static, un-changing set, but The Maids brilliantly succeeds

Presented by: Famous Last Words

Reviewed: 10 April, 2024

Step inside the Mistress’s sumptuous boudoir, filled with both clothes and fresh flowers alongside seething hatred, where a vengeful murder is plotted by a pair of sisterly maids.

Within a lavishly appointed bedroom filled with fresh flowers, racks of extravagant clothing, plush rugs, and feminine Rococo furniture, are two women. In contrast to the lavish beauty of their surroundings, their interactions are filled with powerful hatred, vitriolic attacks of slut-shaming and powerfully foul words, and moments of almost charged sexualised interplay that feel like a truly uncomfortable power play between a boss and a worker.

As a timer goes off, signifying the near return of their boss, the Mistress, the maids are pulled back to reality. It turns out that the show’s somewhat flawed and definitely traumatised protagonist sisters, Solange and Claire, are both maids, living out their dark, vengeful, and borderline erotic fantasies of revenge while their detested Mistress is away.

As the pair rush about re-arranging the room to hide their behaviour and discussing their part played within their Master’s recent arrest (while bantering in ribald hyper-sexualised jokes), it’s hard not to feel that they are being overdramatic about the situation, and that jumping to murder is histrionic. But, once the Mistress enters the stage, it’s almost impossible not to root for the Maids.

The Mistress’s interactions with her staff is a torrent of emotional abuse, made up of back-handed compliments and gaslighting, threats and explosions of yelling, mixed in with tasteless love-bombing. If the audience wasn’t initially convinced of the justification for murder, they are sure to understand the Maid’s passionate hatred now.

As the play proceeds and the story becomes even more dark and dramatic, the visceral vocal performances of the protagonist Maids become more and more unhinged, and the audience witnesses them spiralling the drain of total insanity. The pair languish in their hatred of their boss, and their raging envy of their Mistress’s life is obvious; they want to be her and have what she has, and yet, they never will – and this tortures them!

Time flies while engagingly experiencing The Maids with its dramatic monologue-filled script, top-tier acting, luxurious costumes and setting, all of which creates a continuously engaging production for the audience. For this reviewer, there were two minor spots where the emotionally-charged monologues started to feel slightly repetitive within the same setting.

The cast are brilliant, with lead performers Virginia Blackwell as Solange and Emelia Williams as Claire giving their all to their emotionally-damaged characters, performing so convincingly that it’s hard not to believe that this hatred truly seems to boil within them. Virginia is particularly terrifying in the depths of the madness that she portrays as older sister Solange. Kate Owen, who also eerily haunts the Mistress’ bedroom in beginning of the show, holds herself brilliantly as the elegant, poised, arrogant and bullying Mistress, making her oh-so-easy for the audience to detest.

The audience are seated in the intimate Studio Theatre, where both minimal audience and stage space works in favour of the production, enhancing the audience’s feeling as voyeurs planted right within the private sanctum of the Mistress’s bedroom. The Director James Watson’s clever utilisation of mirrors on the opposite side of the stage to the audience allows for enhanced voyeurism, while also allowing the performers to flow freely throughout the space, without having to worry about more static and unnatural blocking which can pull the audience out of the theatrical world in front of them.

It’s not easy to hold and actively engage the audience with a small cast and static, un-changing set, but The Maids brilliantly succeeds in doing so in a display of superb acting and emotionally charged drama.

Reviewed by Georgina Smerd

Venue: The Studio at Goodwood Theatre and Studios
Season: ended

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