Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Maids @ Dundee Rep

In the last fifteen minutes of Dundee Rep's production of Genet's The Maids, there is an abrupt coup de théâtre. It is as if the self-conscious theatricality that Genet imbued into the script - which had been largely ignored by director Eve Jamieson - had been saved up for this finale, in which the painted backdrop falls to reveal a plain brick wall, a character walks back on stage in a white coat (suggestive of medical authority) and removes the battling protagonists into perspex boxes. In itself, it powerfully represents the arrival of old age to the maids, who have been enjoying their erotic games of murder and submission but suddenly find themselves geriatric and shoved aside.

It's deeply unsatisfying, not least because there had been no suggestion, up to that point, that the sumptuous scenography and boisterous role-playing represented a fragile veneer of theatrical fantasy: by suddenly throwing in a bold declaration that theatre is not merely a mirror of real life, The Maids makes a point that seems trite against the fluctuating power relationships and political complaints that Jamieson and the cast have been making explicit. The pathos and the melodrama - when a speech is amplified over one character's glorious posturing - are hardly earned and undermine the psychological horror that the production reveals in Genet's script. 

Yet for most of the show, Jamieson's interpretation does not dwell on the alienation that Genet intended the audience to feel. Alongside his exploration of racism, Les Nègres (which is unlikely to be produced today because it opens up some problematic issues of representation), The Maids insists on provoking the audience to recognise the theatricality of performance. The maids themselves were written for male actors in female drag - without ever referencing the cross-dressing in the script - and the revolving role-plays switches master and submissive with a ferocious glee. While all-female casting for The Maids is commonplace, and in Dundee Rep's case, a welcome opportunity to see three remarkable actors tackle meaty parts, by rejecting Genet's intentions, the production is permitted a more naturalistic dramaturgy.

If the sexual perversity of the characters remains evident - the maids allude to states of ecstasy and clearly feel a thrill at the thought of usurping their mistress, dominating each other, being dominated and even, finally, caressed by the executioner when they imagine punishment for their deeds - Jamieson emphasises the political subtext. 

The oppression of the maids becomes allegorical, a description of the relationship between the working and aristocratic class: Emily Winter's mistress vacillates between self-absorption and a preening fascination with the maids' goodwill, while the maids fantasize about a funeral in which
the their mistress is forced to mingle with the working classes. The set - an opulent bedroom, festooned with flowers - captures the financial disparities, the power of home decoration to enforce social control and the stultifying presence of authority ingrained into the architecture. 

Genet's preoccupation with the erotic manifestation of class oppression lends Jamieson's interpretation a clear-sighted analysis of the mechanism by which the maids ensure their own defeat. While they plot in vain against their tormentor - attempting murder, informing against her lover - they recognise their complicity in the maintenance of power relations, even enjoying acts of debasement simultaneously as threats against the mistress and themselves. They might bicker about each others' failures to enact their plans, but they indulge them, distracted by the chase for sexual release and unable to imagine a revolution that has not had its terns dictated by crime magazines. Their paranoia after the failure - one maid, Clare, moans that 'the objects' conspired to reveal their plans - only heightens their excitement, and the collapse of the scheme degenerates into more role-playing and wilder fantasy.

Dundee Rep's dramaturgy, which replaces Genet's shifting gender identities with a focus on the characters, their political status and their limitations, offers a naturalistic reading of the script. Its strength - made more evident by the solid performances - however, does not allow for the kind of finale that attempts to reclaim Genet's alienated theatricality. Alongside a moment when an open cupboard reveals Ikea shelving behind the elegant boudoir, this sudden attempt to challenge the audience's perception only introduces a further theme, increases the sympathy for the now inarticulate maids - their lines and movement are guided by the returning mistress who becomes their medical carer. The awkward break exposes the tension between Jamieson's direction and the integrity of the script. 

Nursery Dramaturgy: Angie Dight @ Glasgow

A unique night-time experience exploring the dark themes behind our beloved childhood stories, Nursery Crymes takes to the streets of Glasgow this November.

Audiences are encouraged to wrap up warm for a promenade performance through a specially-created Mother Goose's forest...and out the other side, winding round the streets of the city centre (and in and out of the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall) as they encounter installations, performances, sound works, projections, film and some twisted versions of well-known fairytale characters.

Scotland's renowned outdoor performance company Mischief La-Bas, aided and abetted by artists of all disciplines, explores the sinister side of nursery rhymes – the ideas of authority, morality and social indoctrination underpinning these simple stories for children. If the message is sung so sweetly, do we even notice the crime? Do we ever learn to question these early life lessons?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

It’s inspired by Nursery Rhymes, which were my first introductions to art, beauty and poetry when I was a child, what intrigues now is the darkness and history behind them. It also makes me question the impact such rhymes and stories have on the morality, indoctrination and established beliefs of the young. 
The name ‘Nursery Crymes’ came from the late Ian Smith – a perfect invitation to play with these dark themes and question innocence and guilt in both historic and contemporary society.
I love promenade performance, the mixing up of different art forms, breaking down the fourth wall and the blurring of realities which is at the root of all Mischief La-Bas’ work, as well as some humorous irreverence and audience interaction.
Nursery Crymes will incorporate all these elements.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely, we are real people discussing real ideas, it is a very accessible way of learning new things, provoking questions, making us think, a platform for exploring both good and bad, in my opinion it doesn’t need to give answers but rather give us food for thought or inspire us to want to know more.

How did you become interested in making performance?

As the eldest child of four I made up the games, we wore cardigans on our heads as long hair, were married to the Monkees (Mickey Dolenz my choice ) our games involved living in different realities, everything was something else, my bike was the horse ‘silver moonlight’ and we went to different lands. I nearly always made my sister closest in age to me the boy. I read a lot of books when I was young and always lived in a bit of a dream
World – some might say I’ve never changed.
Performance might be an alternative reality but the experiences are still real.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

There are many, we have invited Artists from various disciplines to make work that relates to dark themes from childhood rhymes or stories.  

Themes might be neglect, misogyny, religious persecution, torture eg, all these and more are found in many of these innocent childhood rhymes.
We are making work that is site-specific in that it responds to and incorporates the environment, in this case the alleyways between Osborne St and Argyle street and around and inside the Panopticon.

We are using the fabric of the buildings and lanes as well as creating our own installations.
As a promenade performance the audience will be ‘guided’ through the ‘show’ by different characters and performers, characters who should all resonate in some way with our past and possibly present experiences.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
We generally make smaller audience interactions that tour or turn up somewhere unexpected, but occasionally we make larger scale work as well as work that incorporates the work of other Artists, alongside installations and our own Mischief La-Bas performers such as Nursery Crymes is.

Past shows that have worked similarly have been ‘Bull’ ’97-’98 ‘Painful Creatures’ 2003-4 and ‘Peeping at Bosch’ 2009 . As ex- circus folk, a big, multi-discipline, weird thing that incorporates all sorts is my dream gig. It’s super exciting, maybe the best game ever.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I really hope they will come away with many different experiences, but that they
will enjoy it and have a great night. I would like them to leave with questions that they find the answers to themselves the next day when they wake up, or even that night when they thaw out. I would love it to be an all encompassing experience for them, that they suspend belief and play along with us.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

It’s a timed experience, so small (ish) groups should be able to fully enjoy the experience. Different aspects of the performance will give or demand different input from the audience, areas are structured quite differently from each other to facilitate varying experiences, the performance will constantly change and does not have a linear narrative.

The Artists and artworks involved all have very different approaches. We are encouraging the audience to look at or appreciate the environment in unusual ways by showing it in a different context to the way it is usually seen.
We are playing in the streets and we invite the audience to join us to do the same. We will be offering a free warm tipple in the Panopticon Britannia, as well as bringing people into this amazing Glasgow hidden gem. We are also offering a social opportunity to continue the evening in the warm in Avantgarde’s function room and bar. It would be great if people hung about and didn’t feel the need to rush off somewhere else.
I hope there will be plenty for people to enjoy.

Nursery Crymes will be a very large-scale performance, happening only on 24th and 25th November, with capacity for an audience of around 400 over two nights, in staggered groups. Artist/designer Bill Breckenridge is creating an immersive on-street set for certain parts of the experience, which will also include cross-disciplinary work from performance and visual artists including Liz Aggiss, Dav Bernard of 85A, Glas(s) Performance, Junction 25, Radiator Arts and Fiona Robertson.