Jean Genet’s sadomasochistic play is brought to life in this radical translation at Trafalgar Studios. The plot centres around sisters Solange and Claire, housemaids to the condescending and narcissistic Mistress. In the Mistress’ absence, the sisters role-play the domineering master and servant dichotomy with the end result being the fantasy of the Mistress’ death.
This version of the play focuses around racial ideas of servitude, giving the play an uneasy twist. The set was exciting as it appeared to be a box like a giant four-poster bed, strewn with flower petals. Having previously read the play before I saw this production, I was curious when reading it how it would be staged and how the dialogue would be presented. This version was more than I could have imagined in terms of staging, it felt exciting and fresh, if not a little over the top – but still very fitting for the play. The play felt a lot longer on stage than when I read it, some parts for me were a little too long and I found myself wondering what I was going to have for dinner. As my friend and I left the theatre, we agreed that there were parts that we loved and others which we really disliked, giving us an immediate sense of confusion towards the performance.
Uzo Aduba as Solange was perfect for me as she portrayed the character to be so submissive at the start, but then a strong burst of fire as she became more dominant as the play progressed – this was especially evident during her climatic monologue at the end of the play. Zawe Ashton as Claire was fantastically funny at the beginning when she was impersonating the Mistress in a wig which resembled a drag queen; she really nailed the condescending tone that Laura Carmichael gave the Mistress. Carmichael was a favourite for me despite her short appearance in the play, her comedic timing was perfect as she made the Mistress more narcissistic and lordly than I expected.
The performance had many highs and lows as some sections felt repetitive and overly lengthy. Despite this, I was glad I saw it as it brought to life something I had only seen on the page. Overall it fell a little flat for me in spite of the amazing cast. There is no doubt that they all gave great performances, but when all put together it felt extreme and it lacked a certain punch.