Review: Uzo Aduba & Zawe Ashton disturb and delight in The Maids

Joe Williams March 5, 2016
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Based on the original play by Jean Genet, Jamie Lloyd brings an exhilarating new version of the celebrated French dramatist’s 1947 play The Maids to the stage.

With a cast made up of Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black), Zawe Ashton (Channel 4’s Fresh Meat) and Laura Carmichael (ITV’s Downton Abbey), the latest adaptation of the sinister tale

Ashton and Aduba play Claire and Solange, the titular housemaids who – in the absence of Mistress Laura Carmichael – live out their vicious fantasies of exploitation and revolt.

The sisters alternate their roles – with one playing that of evil employer and the other vengeful servant.

However, when we join the maids – on a stage seductively shaped like a four-poster bed – they are on the verge of true revolt.

Review: Uzo Aduba & Zawe Ashton disturb and delight in The Maids

The recent arrest of their current employer has tipped them over the edge and the sisters have finally decided that now is the time to kill the Mistress.

Choosing to focus on racial tension rather than the religious undertones of its predecessor, the piece is a true tour-de-force – it captures the audience’s attention and refuses to let go.

Although the dialogue comes thick and heavy, with language that is brutal, vulgar and often comic, the play’s success comes mainly from the actresses delivering it.

Zawe Ashton is a revelation as Claire, the seemingly weaker of the two sisters. She is manic, desperate and transfixed on her relationship with her mistress – who she loves with one breath and despises her with the next.

She floats from wannabe murderer, to exhausted victim – opening the show with a strength and energy that stays with the audience throughout.

Uzo Aduba, meanwhile, sits on her anger for the majority of the piece, calmly explaining to her sister why they should kill their torturous employer. She gives the impression of a steady hand, guiding the unpredictable Claire through the alternative realities in which they exist.

Solange’s climactic speech sees her unleash the rage of the oppressed, as she speaks for the millions who have no doubt dreamt similar dreams of vengeance throughout history.

Her monologue is like a smack in the face, awakening an audience the pair may be about to lose to the sheer bleakness of their situation.

Review: Uzo Aduba & Zawe Ashton disturb and delight in The Maids

Throughout the play, the pair are unstoppable, tearing up the stage and blurring the lines between servants and sisters – a fight between them quickly sees them kissing.

Its up to Laura Carmichael to break up this intensity, as the aforementioned, mythical Mistress who struts onto the stage dragging her servants back into reality.

Carmichael plays the part perfectly – dripping with enough condescension and blind self-love to convince the audience that she may indeed deserve the sticky end her housemaids plan for her.

At Trafalgar Studios, London until May 21

Related topics: orange is the new black, Uzo Abuda

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