Tag Archives: Hen and Chickens Theatre

The Maids – Hizmetçiler



Hen and Chickens Theatre

The Maids

The Maids / Hizmetçiler

Hen and Chickens Theatre

Reviewed – 15th January 2020

 

“this shallow and melodramatic take on the play adds nothing to Genet’s original text”

 

The Maids is a French play, written by Jean Genet and first performed in 1947, about two housemaids – sisters – who have created a sado-masochistic world through which they devise rituals around the fantasy of killing their mistress. This Turkish production has ‘updated’ the story to contemporary London, and the maids mostly speak their native language, apart from when speaking to their off-stage mistress. Their is scope here for a fairly devastating look at the unseen slavery in the houses of the London super-rich, but, alas, this shallow and melodramatic take on the play adds nothing to Genet’s original text, and instead takes away a great deal.

The Maids is a difficult play to stage well; both its emotions and its language are heightened to a degree that removes it from the naturalistic. We are in a claustrophobic imaginary world of sex and power, in which the language continually unsettles, by endlessly see-sawing from overblown Baudelairian symbolism to the filthiest street slang imaginable. The language is essential to the understanding of this play, as it is the oral manifestation of the extraordinary secret world which the sisters have built for themselves over years of living together in stifling emotional deprivation; so it is a nigh on impossible job to engage an audience in this world when 90% of the script (for the Brits in the audience) is read in surtitles, as here. Turkish is a beautiful, rich, expressive language but, in a small pub theatre in London, it seems an exceptionally large ask to require the performers to battle through such a particularly demanding French text for what will inevitably be a largely British audience. It is fantastic to hear other languages spoken on our stages – London is a polyglot city after all – but why not a Turkish play? There seemed no compelling drive to tell this particular story; if there was, it was certainly lost in translation.

The two performers were exhausting to watch, mainly because they were breathless throughout. Relentless panting is neither sexy nor emotionally intense, and it became tedious very quickly indeed. Given that this production chose a difficult language path, it particularly behoved the director to help the performers find a rich physical language to help them tell this story. Frustratingly, the movement was repetitive and full of cliche; entirely devoid of danger or tension. The sisters’ relationship was completely dead; devoid of the bedrock of love and companionship which has slowly morphed into this twisted game of power and desire. Too often, the actors felt marooned on stage without any sense of narrative purpose, and attempted to fill this emptiness by over-emoting. Unfortunately this only added to the tawdry, ghost-train atmosphere supplied by the unhelpful sound and lighting design. The off-stage voice of the mistress was curiously atonal and one-note, and overall the production ended up as nothing more than a dispiriting melodrama, with nothing to tell us.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

 


The Maids / Hizmetçiler

Hen and Chickens Theatre

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
I Will Miss you When You’re Gone | ★★½ | September 2018
Mojo | ★★ | November 2018
Hawk | ★★★ | December 2018
Not Quite | ★★★ | February 2019
The First Modern Man | ★★★ | February 2019
The Dysfunckshonalz! | ★★★★★ | May 2019
No One Likes Us | ★★★ | August 2019
Scenic Reality | | August 2019
A Great Big Sigh | ★★★ | September 2019
The Improvised Shakespeare Show | ★★★ | October 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Improvised Shakespeare Show

★★★

Hen & Chickens Theatre

The Improvised Shakespeare Show

The Improvised Shakespeare Show

Hen & Chickens Theatre

Reviewed – 14th October 2019

★★★

 

“Stick in some ‘thou’ and ‘henceforth’ bits, and that’s pretty much the Shakespeare done and dusted”

 

No set, no props, five actors and two musicians in front of black drapes, and some lines from audience members written on paper slips for future reference, and we’re off: ‘The Improvised Shakespeare Show’ from ShakeItUp Theatre.

I saw a version of ‘Macbeth’ in the Hen & Chickens Theatre a while ago, entitled ‘MacBeeth’; (‘Where the place?’ ‘Upon the heath.’/ ‘There to meet with – MacBeeth!’) and now it feels a bit wrong if the witches in subsequent productions don’t end their first scene with that perfect couplet. Other than that, I think Shakespeare has proved himself to be pretty much bulletproof. Whatever performers chose to do to Mr. Shakespeare or any of his works will outlive that interpretation, and no-one needs to worry about damaging his reputation. Which said – there are two aspects of this show, how Shakespeareyany is it, and how good is the improv? On the question of Shakespeare, it isn’t really. The prologue invites the audience to chose a history, a comedy, or a tragedy. We chose history. They asked for a name and a setting, and they picked a very un-Shakespearean name, Keith, and an un-Shakespearean setting, Slough, so “The History of Keith XIII, King of Slough”. Which is funny, because it isn’t at all Shakespearean. Stick in some ‘thou’ and ‘henceforth’ bits, and that’s pretty much the Shakespeare done and dusted. A number of comedy troupes use Shakespeare as a sort of short-hand for Cultural Credibility, and ShakeItUp Theatre are prime examples of that.

Criticising improv is like writing about a tennis match; the important stuff is how quickly the gags get picked up, how well the actors deal with changes, how much humour they can draw out of surprising material, which is better experienced than described. These actors managed that pretty well. They developed a story on the fly, kept it going for sixty minutes, developed some running gags. It made for an entertaining evening. The task of keeping the action going fell a bit unevenly on two members of the five person troupe, which was a shame – part of the joy of group improv is watching the baton change hands fast, and the pace kept dropping. In addition, I would have liked a bit more from the two musicians, because the group improvised songs let them show a collective presence that got somewhat lost in the spoken story-telling.

This is an improv comedy group that name-checks Shakespeare as a high-culture beard for Olde Englishe shenanigans. That matters not at all to Shakespeare, and not much to their improv style. I do wonder if they benefit from the expectation that they will be riffing on actual plays and characters. Would that make it funnier? Spotting references makes the spotter feel clever, and that is an attraction that this show passed up by not referring to anything. Other than that – an hour-long themed group improv. That was funny. But not much to do with Shakespeare.

 

Reviewed by Chris Lilly

 


The Improvised Shakespeare Show

Hen & Chickens Theatre (further shows on 11th November and 5th December)

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Abducting Diana | ★★★½ | March 2018
Hawk | ★★★ | December 2018
I Will Miss you When You’re Gone | ★★½ | September 2018
Isaac Saddlesore & the Witches of Drenn | ★★★★ | April 2018
Mojo | ★★ | November 2018
No One Likes Us | ★★★ | August 2019
Not Quite | ★★★ | February 2019
Scenic Reality | | August 2019
The Dysfunckshonalz! | ★★★★★ | May 2019
The First Modern Man | ★★★ | February 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews