Jean Genet, a Parisian contemporary of Cocteau, Sartre, Camus, etc during the heydays of existentialism and absurdist theatre, seems an unlikely source for a West End comedy hit, but, in the fearless hands of Jamie Lloyd, here it is. The Maids, written in 1947, is a dark satire on servitude. In this 2013 translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton, the action is moved to the American Deep South and the two maids of the title are black, answering to a white mistress, giving the play strong modern resonances and urgency. The Lloyd ingredient is irreverent, naughty fun. We first meet Claire (Zawe Ashton) and Salange (played superbly at this performance by understudy Chereen Buckley) as they fool around in their employer’s absence, mocking her and trying on her clothes. Slinky, blond-wigged and speaking with a pronounced Southern drawl, Claire reminds of the new Mrs Murdoch, a view endorsed when the real mistress appears – Laura Carmichael. as in Downton Abbey, still the lady from “upstairs”, but a whole lot more sassy. Soutra Gilmour’s box-like set looks something like a children’s play pen, a home to pandemonium that becomes scattered with debris. Lloyd pulls out all the stops to produce the fireworks needed to keep this rather thin one-joke play going for almost two hours non-stop and, miraculously, he succeeds. This show is a long way from perfection, but it is fun and it brings a breath of fresh air to West End theatre.
Performance date: 26 March 2016