The Maids

Theatre, West End
Recommended
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(13user reviews)
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 (© Marc Brenner)
1/8
© Marc Brenner

Laura Carmichael and Uzo Aduba

 (© Marc Brenner)
2/8
© Marc Brenner

Laura Carmichael

 (© Marc Brenner)
3/8
© Marc Brenner

Laura Carmichael, Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton

 (© Marc Brenner)
4/8
© Marc Brenner

Uzo Aduba

 (© Marc Brenner)
5/8
© Marc Brenner

Uzo Aduba

 (© Marc Brenner)
6/8
© Marc Brenner

Uzo Aduba

 (© Marc Brenner)
7/8
© Marc Brenner

Zawe Ashton and Uzo Aduba

 (© Marc Brenner)
8/8
© Marc Brenner

Zawe Ashton

Phenomenal acting from Uzo Aduba, Laura Carmichael and above all Zawe Ashton in this revival of Jean Genet's violent classic

Interview: Zawe Ashton on 'The Maids', 'Fresh Meat', and more

A giant, ornate laundry hamper fills the stage. Its sides vanish to reveal two women contorting to synth music in a beam of light, showered with drifts of rose petals. It’s an opener with all the high drama of an Alexander McQueen fashion show. But instead, director Jamie Lloyd is presiding over an intensely stylish tale of two maids fixated on dressing up in their mistress’s clothes – McQueen frocks included – and drinking in the power that clings to them, lingering like perfume.

Ultra-cool, and deeply nasty, Jean Genet’s 1947 play is a sadomasochistic shocker. And Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton’s version feels strikingly modern – and not just because it peppers the air with more swear words than Kate Moss on an easyJet flight. The twenty-first -century super-rich still have servants, and even if they’ve ditched the frilly outfits, they’re expected to be as invisible and submissive as ever. As the play’s Mistress, Laura Carmichael switches effortlessly between patronising kindliness and all the sadistic cruelty that was swept under the rug in her role as Lady Edith in ‘Downton Abbey’.

When she’s away, her maids mock her in a series of ritualistic role-plays. Uzo Aduba, best known as ‘Crazy Eyes’ in ‘Orange Is the New Black’, brings an appropriate degree of eye-rolling frustration and blind fury to these twisted fantasies. But Zawe Ashton, a cult-favourite for her role as penniless narcotic ninja Vod in ‘Fresh Meat’, proves herself as a mesmerising live performer. She’s vulnerable, unpredictable and utterly in control. The text becomes a dressing-up box full of styles for her to try on – from chest-clutching mannerist acting, to languid Southern drawls, to twerking, to writhing on the floor in a homoerotic frenzy. 

Unusually for a production that screams its message in your ears until you’re as flecked with spittle as Carmichael’s shoes, the play’s racial politics are more of a whisper. We’re left to come to our own conclusions as to how Mistress’s whiteness lets her degrade her maids, driving them to a madness that’s as overblown and heady as the rose petals that cover the stage. Underneath their scent, there’s dirty laundry whose stink won’t stay hidden for long.

By: Alice Saville INACTIVE

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Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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LiveReviews|13
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1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

I cannot fault the performances or the production. This is an impressive piece of theatre with brilliant performances, particularlyfrom Zawe whose overtly sexualty mannerisms and emotionally fragile performance made me as uncomfortable as if I was witnessing real life.

I enjoyed the deep electronic beats and slick set design but I did not enjoy this play. It is dark, miserable and, I'm my opinion pointless. I was not educated, I was not enrertainted, there was no light at the end of the tunnel; no triumph over dispair. Just misery for the sake of misery which is no fun for me.

1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

The play itself is difficult to watch, and impossible to like. However this is a good production,with three good performances. Uzo Aduba is particularly impressive. She starts off very low key, and then builds, and builds into something really powerful.

1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

Some superb performances but the play struggled to grip me.  I think I'd prefer a more traditional staging of the play without the minimalist set and overtly-flashy production as there's some strong ideas within, but I can't say I was ever particularly engrossed.  One of the weaker plays I've seen at the usually excellent Trafalgar Studios.

Tastemaker

Intriguing but a little overdramatic. The set design and the music really helped bring the play into a contemporary place and the whole cast was spectacular but maybe a bit out of place in these roles. 


I enjoyed the journey the play took us through, allowing us to be confused at first. As the play went on I was hoping to understand more and more of their psyche but I didn't get very far. This helped in making the story more jarring and thriller-esque. There were moments when I was sitting on the edge of my seat trying to predict what would happen next. Other times I was hoping for something a little different to shed light on the situation at hand. 


I was unfortunately seated next to two chatty girls who spent half the play on their phones pulling my attention away from the stage. I think this story would have done better if performed in a less contemporary way, paying more of an homage to the past and helping make a stronger case for their psychological damage. I would happily see all of them act again in different roles. 

Tastemaker

A darkly compelling satire about the relationship between master and servant. Two maids plot to overthrow their tyrannical mistress and end the horrible servility of their existence. 

The language is masterfully vitriolic - but this is also a very funny play, despite the ultimate bleakness and lack of hope at the end. Both Aduba and Ashton turn out incredible performances.

Tastemaker

This is a tour de force in acting by an all female cast (it was on purpose to not have any male cast) and was thoroughly enjoyable. The themes raised in the play felt very prevalent today, even though the play was written nearly a 100 years ago now. The actors really fed off each other's energy and ability, and it was a real team effort on stage. I was captivated and breathless by the intensity on the stage. The set was unique and the 1000s of petals added to the Splendour (Zawe that was for you) of it all. Highly recommended and worth the watch! 

tastemaker

Way too long, it could have done with being trimmed by at least 30 minutes. Too many abstract monologues that left the audience wandering what their motivation was. The basic concept was original enough and if they had followed it through then they could have created a much more interesting and compelling piece. I won't give anything away but the end just didn't seem to make any sense, what was the character's motivation? 


I know it's meant to be a rather abstract and etherial piece but they went too far and I am not sure that I really cared for the characters or what happened to them, which is sad. Brilliant acting though and a superb set, very cleverly designed. Although there was a moment when they had a low rumbling, distant dance track playing in the background and I wasn't sure if it was some pub next door or the production that was the source and I felt it very distracting, that was a poor choice by the sound designer. It added nothing and was too distracting.

tastemaker

The Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton's version of Jean Genet's sadomasochistic shocker retains its ultra cool, utterly nasty but feels modern and contemporary. The language is malevolent, vicious and obscene. 

 The genius is in making the maids black, in french maid costumes, played sublimely by Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton as Solange and Claire. The mistress, played brilliantly by Laura Carmichael. The contrast sand similarities between the maids (the girls) and their mistress were very well captured and revealed. 

 The little-little jokes with the tea, the mocking of the mistress when she was away, the way Claire parade the frock, the utter obedience when she is home, the fear when they received the phone call - are all moments of brilliance.

The politics of colour and class system is very apparent in this play. Initially it made the play more relevant and urgent but it got really draggy and self indulgent and the 1 hour and 45 minutes felt painfully longer and felt like a piece of propaganda.


The message is important - psychological impact of serving other people - and it deserves a good play. Having not seen the original Genet version it is difficult to know whether this americanised, twenty first century interpretation, is just not to my taste, or whether the play itself is at fault. I found the lesbian interactions gratuitous and the histrionics overdone.  I would love to see it done again with the same cast, but a completely different direction!


(my partner and I deserve the champagne to compensate for the £49 extra we paid to buy our tickets through TimeOut....this bit not for publication)



Absolutely compelling! Felt like I couldn't breathe until the play had finished. A truly professional performance, admiration for an hour and 50 minutes of learnt script and acting. Wonderful!

Tastemaker

I am always floored by the ingenuity of stage designers, with the Maids, there wasn't much of a stage to work with but the execution of the lighting/music absolutely made this production.

The lead actresses Zawe Ashton & Uzo Aduba were good, I feel that they may have slightly overdone the drama for their parts, I found the briefperformance by Laura Carmichael to be outstanding.

It was my first time to Trafalgar Studios, I would say that the "Band B" seats were slightly overpriced for what you could see in comparison to other theatres. I would recommend getting stage side seats for a better experience.

Staff Writer

An absolutely firey staging of the play. Zawe Ashton gives the standout performances, but Uzo Aduba ups the feeling of unease throughout. It plays through like an electric fever dream, wavering between uncomfortable flashes of violence via erotic tension to brilliantly delivered comedy. Laura Carmichael isn't totally convincing as the cruel, contrary mistress, but it doesn't distract from the whole. Well worth catching while you can.


Superb acting from the three cast members. The show is 1hr 45 minutes straight through but it would be fair to say it feels longer. I'm not sure the Play is that good but its completely hidden by the stylish staging, the unique direction and first class performances. Well worth a night out to see.