The Maids – the battle of acting vs plot
They say the greatest mark of an actor is how well they can perform on stage, especially in a play. With minimal set and musical trickery, the emphasis is purely on how well they can draw you into the story with their acting power.
Nowhere have I ever seen this more apparent than in The Maids, a masterpiece orchestrated by two absolute powerhouses Zawe Ashton and Uzo Aduba playing the maids, supported by the equally mesmorising and icily treacherous mistress, played by Laura Carmichael.
From the beginning, you are brought smack bang into the middle of the set, where sisters Claire (played by Zawe) and Solange (played by Udo) are playing dress up in their mistress’ dress, make-up and an incongruously blonde wig. Dress up conjures up thoughts of girlish fun and lighthearted emulation but in this case it’s dark and dripping with anger and pain as they imagine what it would be like to murder their mistress.
Uzo, as the older sister, sways wildly between protectiveness and accusation as they argue about how to commit the perfect murder and set themselves free. While Zawe is all barely concealed emotion and gangly slapstick gestures, Uzo is quietly fearsome – which builds in the play to a point where you end up quite frightened of her. The set is stripped back and allows the actors to shine.
Laura provides the perfect third point to the triangle in playing the mistress, a snobby insidiously dangerous and sly little madam whose comparatively short scenes masterfully whip you into anger and allegiance with the maids.
The dialogue is at times fussy and, although articulate, is also complicated. Long drawn out emotive speeches are broken up with the staccato slap of the odd c-word, which could be edgy in the right context but doesn’t quite work.
Nothing though can take away from just how masterful and incredible these women are. Their acting excellence is insurmountable and any amount of drawn out frustrating plot devices (the play itself is over an hour and a half with no interval) will take away just how jaw-dropping The Maids is. I can imagine the last scene, a surprising, intense and super-powerful show down between the sisters will be difficult for me to forget any time soon.
- The Maids, Trafalgar Studios, starring Uzo Aduba, Zawe Ashton and Laura Carmichael
- Image attribution: The Guardian