“I feel like I’ve just been trapped in a vagina for two hours.” After an erotically-charged mindfuck of a performance, audience members exhaled in the Sydney Theatre lobby, laughing off the sexual tension of The Maids like an awkward group of teenage friends who’ve just watched a porno together for funsies. 

Dirty and disturbing, the complex new adaptation from Sydney Theatre Company spits you out of the theatre invigorated, exhausted and ready for a shower.

 

Legendary French playwright Jean Genet’s 1947 tale of unspeakable desire and rivalry, The Maids has been a long-time pet project of the monarchs of Sydney Theatre Company, with Cate Blanchett acting and Andrew Upton adapting. Always courageous in directing, STC favourite Benedict Andrews (The War of the Roses, Gross und Klein) offers up a sensuous, multi-angled staging of the loosely real-life tale of two maids, sisters Solange (French screen legend Isabelle Huppert) and Claire (Blanchett), who plan to murder their unsavory mistress.

 

The Maids owes its success to Huppert and Blanchett, a pair whose onstage chemistry is brilliantly unsettling. The two successfully subvert the disconcerting reality of forbidden relations and general sadomasochism by acting like prepubescents raiding the makeup stash, playing dress ups and doing obscene things with orchids.

 

Blanchett is predictably magnificent, delivering Genet’s difficult, often crass script with conversational ease (and the most elegant c-bomb drops you’ve ever heard). The tiny yet terrifying Huppert is equally superb, expertly balancing moments of black comedy and total psycho for a powerfully disturbing performance. Stunning newcomer Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) makes her STC debut as the formidable mistress, storming the stage like an Amazonian blonde tornado in heels.

 

A bold, tech-heavy adaptation, the bouquets on stage aren’t nearly sufficient to reward The Maids. After leaving the theatre, remember: be sure to tip your post-show waiter, your cab driver and most importantly, your maids. Hospitality’ll make you snap.

 

4/5 stars

 

BY SHANNON CONNELLAN

 

STC presents The Maids until July 20.

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