I've taken a while to get my thoughts down on The Maids, because I was left with a very strange mixture of being both absolutely amazed and slightly let down. I've taken time to reflect on that in the hope that my review can now help me sort through those two feelings.
The acting: flawless.
The overall show? It left me feeling a bit flat.
The Maids has a phenomenal cast. Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton, as maids Claire and Solange, delivered a masterclass in acting. The characters show vulnerability, strength, comedy and anger, and the relationship between the two women is at times touching at at times very odd, menacing and twisted. I thought this relationship was portrayed beautifully, and multiple times throughout the show I was on the edge of my seat, completely unsure which way their actions would swing.
There were also an awful lot of long monologues, which both Aduba and Ashton delivered flawlessly. I'd been expecting great things based on how much I've loved the TV work of both women, and they exceeded those high expectations many times over.
Laura Carmichael, too, did not disappoint. The mistress is only in a small part of the play, but Carmichael's confidence was clear, and her accent spot on. I loved the slightly ridiculous elements of her character, and her extremes of emotion. Her first entrance, with the thumping music and bright lights, was fantastically done.
The show was performed with an audience seated in front and behind the box stage, and the staging worked well here, although I did feel the main focus was out to the front, where the largest portion or seats were.
The stage was bare, and set into the floor were a variety of trapdoors which housed the props and the stairs down to the kitchen. The small stage space added to the tension of the scenes with more violent undertones, and the trapdoor set-up was a clever one. As well as being a good place to store the props, the noise of the trapdoors shutting and the movement between trapdoors in scenes with multiple props added to the musical, dance-like elements of the staging.
The flower petals were a great, simple way to add interest to the scene. The at once represented luxury and mess, and the scene where the maids are sweeping them up gave a real sense of the monotony of their routine.
So what was it that left me underwhelmed?
I'm not quite sure.
I wanted more, but I don't know what from.
As I've already said, the acting was some of the best I've ever seen. The staging was clever, and the lighting and sound, too. The moments of bright light were stunning, and the fade of the final spotlight was so precise. The thumping dance music which punctuated certain moments of the play served the tension well.
I think the root of my disappointment could well be the story and script itself. While many scenes were great and full of tension, but some parts really slowed the pace. The opening scene I felt went on for far too long. One of the maids is playing the mistress, as they imagine how they could kill her. The scene overall was good, but it went on for a long, long time before it was even revealed the true identity of each woman.
Then, towards the end, Aduba's character has a long monologue, imagining the aftermath of a death. Bearing in mind the play is an hour and forty minutes straight through with no interval, this seemed a very strange time to place a long monologue. Aduba delivered it superbly, but it was at that point where concentration spans are running out, and could have benefited from losing even a few minutes of length.
Small things like this maybe become more clear when everything else about a production is so great, and that could be why I left feeling slightly flat. The acting was phenomenal and the staging innovative, but it just didn't quite all pull together to create an overall performance that took my breath away.