Rug ’n’ role play

PUBLISHED: 17:35 17 June 2009 | UPDATED: 17:24 16 August 2010




A large white rug with a video camera and a mobile phone lying on it are all that director Gael Colin needs to create the

A large white rug with a video camera and a mobile phone lying on it are all that director Gael Colin needs to create the claustrophobic world of two servant girls and their omnipresent mistress.

As The Maids starts, the despised mistress is out, but not missing, as one of the girls immediately dresses up in her clothes and orders the other about in a sadistic role-playing game.

The video-cam is used by the other girl to record her humiliation and heighten the atmosphere of drama and intrigue.

To add to the disorientation, the girl who is being abused is playing the part of the other, so it is some time before we learn that Solange (Emilija Ellen) is the one who has forged some letters, causing the arrest of Madame's lover and thereby precipitating a murderous plot by the girls to poison the overbearing mistress of the household and take her place.

Irena Grgona, as Claire, flounces around in a white crimplene baby-doll dress and flashes her blonde hair and black stilettos, as she denounces her "servant" and accuses her of lewd acts with the milkman. Writhing dramatically on the rug, she encourages Solange to confess to wanting her dead.

"She'll die, and I will inherit," brazens Solange. "But don't worry, you'll be able to play the queen."

In the midst of this turbulent interplay Madame (Claire Spence) returns. Squeezed into an organza frou-frou dress and with diamante earrings swinging dangerously, she parades up and down like Naomi Campbell in a strop, finally flinging herself to the floor and rolling past the "prison guards" in a virtuoso attempt to show the girls how she will rescue her lover.

This extraordinary display is followed by screams of delight when she is told by the girls that her lover has been released by a judge. "Do they work this late?" she suspiciously asks, and then demands a taxi be fetched so she can be reunited with her thief of a lover. This is followed by Solange's botched attempt to poison her while she waits for the cab, and she disappears unharmed in a cloud of Chanel No 5.

Jean Genet wrote this play in 1946 and his pathetic upbringing and criminal career gave him a taste for the low life of Paris and its jails. He was obsessed by authority figures and much of this play explores the imagery of the church and the brothel. The final scenes where Solange attempts to strangle Claire while they are having sex are disturbing and erotic, but there is an other-worldly atmosphere that keeps you from getting directly involved. The current real-life courtroom drama of "Foxy" Amanda Knox gives this production an unwelcome prescience, and validates the weird and wonderful world that Nomads Of Bazar theatre company and these three exciting performers have created.

The Maids is at Greenwich Playhouse, Greenwich High Road, until July 5. Running time 90min (no interval). Tickets £10-£12. Box office: 0208 858 9256.

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