Posts Tagged ‘Jean Genet’

Review – Deathwatch – Print Room

April 26, 2016

It’s a damned good time to get caught up with you queer culture – Jean Genet has two plays on right now, and Deathwatch, which is getting its first major revival in thirty years, is a far better insight into Genet’s mind than the blowsy version of The Maids that’s being presented at Trafalgar Studios. It was my first visit to The Print Room’s new location (much closer to the Notting Hill Gate tube than their previous location had been to its transport), but as a fan of this subculture (and a member) I wanted to see this play live.

I know I’ve seen a pile of films set in prison, but none of them felt anywhere near as real as Deathwatch did, with seventy minutes used to compress years and years of resentment and silences into one non-stop sensory barrage that felt to me more like a rollercoaster ride than the silence and thoughtfulness I associate with standing by someone’s deathbed. Three convicts are locked together in a small cell, their relationships to each other – both connections (based on affection) and hierarchy (based on physical strength and aggression) painfully on display to us. The effect is heightened by the setting, which is circus-like – the cage the play takes place in sat in front of a big top as if we were watching caged tiger, an effect heighted by the decision to clothe the fourth member of the troupe as a ringmaster and then as a tightrope walker. The story, such as it is, seems to be about Green Eyes (Tom Varey) dealing with his impending execution by reliving the psychological truth of the murder he committed while his cell mates Lefranc (Danny Lee Wynter) and Maurice (Joseph Quinn) watch in fascination; but even that story, and their response to it, is all a part of the never ending struggle for dominance within the prison.

Each of the actors take advantage of their varied physiques to create vivid characters whose conflict sucks you in. Clearly Maurice is the weakest – his reliance on touch and seductiveness serving where being able to beat someone up is not possible. Green Eyes is masculine and beautiful, quick to anger and yet desirable to both of the other men … how could they not want to please him? This leaves Lefranc: hulking but desperate for approval from Green Eyes, absolutely despising Maurice, who knows exactly how to wind up him.

In some ways this play could be set in a dorm room or an army barracks, but it’s the clinging air of being close to death and unable to escape that makes this play so intense – that and the fine performances by the three lead actors. I consider it well worth my time and recommend it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 16th, 2016. It continues through May 7th.)

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Review – The Maids – Trafalgar Studios

March 14, 2016

It would be hard for me to say no to a chance to see one of the plays of the infamous Jean Genet. I’ve spent a lifetime hearing about him, but have had only one previous chance to see one of his works staged (and that was a student production). So I rocked right up to Trafalgar Studios for an early showing (it was some flavor of press night) of The Maids to check out, up close and in person (in fact in the front row) what all the fuss was about.

The set was done up so that it was like a little box in the middle of the theater, the floor covered with flower petals (and the corners twisting wood like for a four-poster bed). Two black women were on the stage as the curtain rose – one dressed in a fancy outfit and a blonde wig, the other in a maid’s uniform. I actually thought the blonde one was well and truly the rich woman being horribly, horribly cruel to her paid help. Finally I got that both of them were role playing, and I was able to relax a little into the story – although the story got creepier and creepier as time rolled on. These two women were sisters? Did they really hate each other that much? Were they supposed to have an incestuous relationship? I could understand them loathing their boss, but they seemed to hate themselves as well, but with a hatred in some way fed and watered by their job and by their employer.

And then … well, it kind of descended into a thriller/whodunit kind of thing. The “mistress” showed up, the maids got to freak out about lies they’d told and a phone call, and there was a big to-do about a cup of tea. The floor was swept and then covered with petals again. I found the ending blundering toward me like a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man … one hundred percent obvious from ten miles away and about as exciting to watch. Hmph. I suppose the whole thing was very cutting edge in the 1950s, but next time … I can probably get just as much cutting edge social commentary from watching a student show. I’m glad I went, but I don’t think there’s much to recommend this production other than satisfying the curiosity of seeing it on stage.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. It continues through May 21st.)