A macabre, gothic piece of absurd theatre makes its way to the Dundee Rep stage this autumn with director Eve Jamieson’s marvellously decadent and darkly camp take on Jean Genet’s The Maids. Jamieson is the previous director of the school of theatre at The Space in Dundee and is now currently a lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, so there is no surprise that her understanding and take on Genet’s controversial piece is highly informed and detailed. It’s very rare to walk out of a classic play thinking that it may well have just been performed exactly the way the writer would have wanted to a modern audience – but this is one of these instances.
The play was French playwright Genet’s 1947 slight take on the dark, true story of two sisters who murdered their employer. Genet was intrigued by the process of rituals and combined this with his investigation of the psychological process behind the actions of the two women. It’s an allegorical delve into the class divide and plays with audience expectations and conceptions of reality. It’s also very, very funny.
It’s an absolute delight to see Irene MacDougall, Ann Louise Ross and Emily Winter perform this production. The three actors have been longstanding members of the Dundee Rep ensemble (eighteen years!) and this production delivers the first time that the three talented performers take to the stage as a trio. The fact that they have worked together so long only adds to the claustrophobic nature of the relationships, but it also provides the platform for a wonderful repartee and the three women are downright astonishing to watch.
The production elements are outstanding, with the set design by Kenneth MacLeod really adding to the grand, sumptuous quality that the production exudes. There will no doubt be many a theatre-goer who walks out of the show completely stumped as to what they have just watched, but there will be no denying that the entire extravaganza is a feast for the eyes.
There are sly clues dotted throughout the show that things are not what they seem as the rug is pulled from under the feet of the audience on many an occasion. In fact, it feels like the audience are then hit over the head, rolled up in the rug, and thrown off the balcony, especially with an ending that will have you question everything that you have just seen happen over the past two hours. This is theatre that requires debate and it’s an outstanding production which will stay with you for a very long time.
With Halloween on the horizon, it comes as a fitting time, as well. Any fans of the campy Grand-Guignol style horror and strong female roles favoured by the popularity of shows like American Horror Story should come to see this production. If you ever wondered what happened to Baby Jane, the maids probably had something to do with it.