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The Maids by Jean Genet HOME, Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. keyworthdavid@gmail.com https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83
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Let’s play masters and servants
In his introduction to The Maids (New York: Grove Press,1954), Jean-Paul Sartre quotes Jean Genet as saying: "If I were to have a play put on in which women had roles, I would demand that these roles be performed by adolescent boys."

HOME'S production, directed by Lily Sykes, honours Genet's wish - in so far as having all three roles played by male actors.

As the play opens Solange (Luke Mullins) and her younger sister, Claire (Jake Fairbrother) are deeply engrossed in well-practised in role-playing. One of them is Mistress and the other the (outwardly) devoted servant.

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Lily Sykes, Jean Genet, The Maids, Jake Fairbrother, Luke Mullins, France Now
Luke Mullins (Solange) and Jake Fairbrother (Claire) in The Maids by Jean Genet presented by HOME Manchester. Directed by Lily Sykes, in a translation by Martin Crimp (HOME Manchester, 16 Nov - 1 Dec 2018). Photo by Jonathan Keenan


The sisters flip between contempt for each other's submissiveness and mutual emotional support.

It is like watching children in a remote house dress up in their parent's clothes. Their playfulness though has a deeply sinister undercurrent. They are obsessed with their Mistress and this obsession alternates between sensual rapture and murderous intent. We, the audience, are constantly assessing which impulse will win out.

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Lily Sykes, Jean Genet, The Maids, Jake Fairbrother, Luke Mullins, France Now
Luke Mullins (Solange) Photo by Jonathan Keenan.


The Maids - which was premiered in 1947 - is a murder mystery, not in the sense of whodunit (or will do it) but why do Claire and Solange inhabit such an insular, incestuous world.

Have their circumstances made their psychological states inevitable or is this claustrophobic existence the only one that they are able to function in?

Does Mistress genuinely value them or are they just her playthings - at the whim of her moods. "She poisons us with kindness," Claire laments at one point.

The psychological dynamic is heightened by Jake Fairbrother and Luke Mullins' rapid-fire delivery of Jean Genet's dialogue, in a translation by Martin Crimp (first staged at the Young Vic in 1999).

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Lily Sykes, Jean Genet, The Maids, Jake Fairbrother, Luke Mullins, France Now
Photo by Jonathan Keenan..


The lighting by Zoe Spurr and music by Jan Schoewer add to the drama's dark spell. The entrance of Mistress (Danny Lee Wynter) is a hauntingly beautiful highlight.

Danny Lee Wynter gives a wonderfully camp performance as Mistress. He pitches it somewhere between Blanche duBois and Maggie Smith, in Downton Abbey.

Arguably, this portrayal robs the Mistress of some of the erotic power, which bewitches Solange and Claire so fatally. But it makes sense in terms of this production. With each condescending, flowery remark, it feels as though she is edging closer to her demise.

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Lily Sykes, Jean Genet, The Maids, Jake Fairbrother, Luke Mullins, France Now
Danny Lee Wynter (the Mistress), Luke Mullins (Solange) and Jake Fairbrother (Claire). Photo by Jonathan Keenan.


This production sees HOME transform its main house theatre into the round for the first time. It is to be hoped that this will not be a one-off when the play demands it - as it does in the case of The Maids

Jean Genet, The Maids, Jake Fairbrother, Luke Mullins, France Now, Glenda Jackson, Susannah York
Poster for film of The Maids, 1975. Jackson York posters By Source, Fair use,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1140839




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Why? Darkly compelling French drama at theatre-in-the-round, HOME
When: Friday 16 November - Saturday 1 December 2018
Phone: 0161 200 1500
Where: HOME Tony Wilson Place First Street MANCHESTER M15 4FN
Cost: £10 – £26.50 full (concs. available)
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