Oppression and poverty can cause extraordinary rebellion and revolution. For the French sisters Cristine and Léa Papin, it provoked them to murder their employer's wife and daughter in February 1933. This is the true crime event that inspired Jean Genet to write The Maids.
Directed by Lily Sykes, HOME in Manchester presented their retelling of this murderous duo. For the first time in HOME history they crafted a brand-new, in-the-round auditorium. The encircled seating made me feel part of the performance, there was no hiding and no escaping. The perfect setting for this frightening tale to commence.
The Maids told a thrilling story of manipulation, illusion, jealously and vulnerability. There was a fine line between feeling empathetic for the sisters and absolutely petrified of them. Watching this performance is similar to watching a tightrope walker, the sisters were hanging on by a thread to their sanity, whilst the dark world of games and haunting role-play attempted furiously to pull them in.
Adding to the immense surreal nature of this play, the three female characters were played by men. This idea of having men play women was projected on to a black screen as the audience filled their seats - a quote from Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers.
Danny Lee Wynter’s portrayal of the Mistress was breath-taking. The Mistress radiated elegance and glamour, a painful reminder to the maids of their status within society. An affectionate and caring moment was when the Mistress gave the maids items of clothing to try on and keep, yet this was juxtaposed with her taking them back later on in the performance.
The maids crafted a world of hyperbolic fantasy brewed through hatred and self-loathing. Yet despite the scarily realistic role-playing, they could not leave the realities of life - the game had to end. We go to the theatre to escape the truths of everyday life, similar to how the maids perform their role-play. Yet the curtains close, the play ends and life continues.
The staging absolutely came to life through the use of live-stream cameras which projected a video image onto a large projected screen towering above the audience. This extra platform to view the performance through created tension and unease, representing the mirror image that the maids were watching themselves through. It allowed the audience to delve deeper into their sadistic world, exploring the vulnerability and disturbed tendencies of their minds.
Overall, this extremely abstract and complex performance was gripping and haunting. It gave the audience insight into the minds of murderers whilst also being able to elicit empathy and a warped understanding of a demanding lifestyle.