Almost all pro reviewers gave Jamie Lloyd’s new production of Jean Genet’s The Maids at Trafalgar Studios positive reviews, with more than half awarding four stars.
Alice Saville (Time Out) hailed an “ultra-cool, and deeply nasty… sadomasochistic shocker” and Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) described a “feverish vision of the desire to shrug off tyranny”.
Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) felt Genet’s “writing, rather than his scenarios, makes his visions hum” and shared Hitchings’ concerns about “an unsubtle translation” which “robs the play of some of its wit”. Michael Billington (The Guardian) enjoyed “the brutal, coarse, even comic language” but missed “the religious element” in a production “very much about racial and economic servitude”.
Saville, however, praised this “strikingly modern” version, an “intensely stylish tale” set among “the twenty-first-century super-rich”. She described an opening scene in which “two women contorting to synth music in a beam of light” are “showered with drifts of rose petals” with “all the high drama of an Alexander McQueen fashion show”. Coveney described the stage as “a playground,” less stark than in earlier productions, but concluded “while watching the Trafalgar version, you wouldn’t swap it”, and adding “I love the way we are cast as voyeurs”.
There was general enthusiasm for what Hitchings judged Lloyd’s “bold casting” and three “memorably intense” performances.
Billington found Uzo Aduba’s Solange “lends the play a ferocity I had never quite glimpsed before” describing a “big climactic speech” in which “she unleashes the rage of oppressed people everywhere”. Coveney thought her “tremendous” and Saville praised “an appropriate degree of eye-rolling sass and blind fury”.
Billington thought Zawe Ashton’s Claire “more sinuously seductive, less openly murderous” and Hitchings saw her switch “from flamboyant escapism to a suffocating anxiety”. Saville found the actor “mesmerising… vulnerable, unpredictable and utterly in control” and said “The text becomes a dressing-up box full of styles for her to try on”.
Coveney thought their Mistress “played, beautifully and hoity-toitily, as a Park Avenue glamour queen, by Laura Carmichael”. Billington described “exactly the right quality of heedless, narcissistic condescension” and Saville saw her switch “effortlessly between patronising kindliness and… sadistic cruelty”.
Hitchings felt “Lloyd’s decision to make this… about racial tensions… smart, and locating the action in America… equally shrewd” but found the result “essentially one-note”. But Billington hailed “a highly impressive, deeply political production of a lost landmark”.