The Maids – Subscriber Briefing (May 27, 2013)

The Maids – Subscriber Briefing
Sydney Theatre Company
27 May 2013 at Wharf 2

Present for Briefing:

  • Andrew Upton (new translation)
  • Benedict Andrews (new translation / director)
  • Cate Blanchett (Claire)
  • Isabelle Huppert (Solange)
  • Elizabeth Debicki (Mistress / Madame)

Below is a summary of the subscriber briefing. Please credit when linking.

On wanting to stage the play:

Andrew: We’ve wanted to stage the play for a few years. It is from a distinct time in theatre (after World War II). It is avant-guard regarding language, theatrical form. Benedict returns to the Sydney Theatre Company for the first time since Gross Und Klein, which toured to France. Isabelle saw the show in Paris and met Cate, Andrew and Benedict for dinner. It happened during dinner that it was brought up. The play itself, helped shape 2013 season, especially links with Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

On getting endorsement from Genet’s Estate.

Andrew: The play has only been endorsed by the Estate a few times in terms of doing new translations. After asking a number of times, they were given permission by the Estate to do a new adaptation.

On the actors and the play itself:

Andrew: Elizabeth is playing Mistress. It begins with a mistress and a maid (Cate and Isabelle). In fact they are pretending to be the mistress while she’s away. It is like a theatrical game spinning at which point Elizabeth’s character comes into the play. The maids are two sisters, who are each other’s mirror. It has a fascinating triangle as drama and dialogue between the three actresses.

Benedict: From the dinner the question was raised. What happens if these two actress (cate and Isabelle) meet in a role? There is the invention of theatre making. While the age of the mistress is unknown, it is a case of younger actress (Elizabeth) meeting these two great actresses (Cate and Isabelle).

On being introduced to Genet:

Benedict: I was introduced to Genet as a student. It helped me discover the love of theatre. It has the idea of ritual, reflective on theatre acting. Genet wrote novels when he was in prison and wrote plays after he left prison, so he wrote from the position of the outsider.

On being a working piece (collaboration in the translation between Andrew and Benedict):

Benedict: There are mirrors. The play is about strong, deep emotions, which demands the actress to go to deep places (psychosis). It is similar to Macbeth (the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth).

Andrew: We worked independently and then switched over to different Maids. The parts were then mashed together. (Andrew did first draft of mashing, Benedict did second). The structure is from French drama, so very arguative.

Benedict: The process is still changing.

On who is playing whom:

Elizabeth: Mistress

Cate: Claire (Maid). There was talk to switch roles throughout the run, but not doing it now.

Isabelle: Solange, older sister.

On the characters / play:

Cate: Not like any role I’ve played before. 10% playing Claire, the rest is pretending to be the mistress.

Benedict: It’s continually confusing and will be in three days when previews start. There is the element of being deeply trapped in roles and being a slave to the mistress.

Elizabeth: Master is not in the play but very prominent in the play. (Cate remarks: it’s Benedict *laugh* ). It’s a strange reality where we reflect bits of each other. I’ve never been in a rehearsal and watched another actress play my role and I’ll be taking notes at the same time.

On the language:

Benedict: Language becomes shards of mirrors. Not knowing of when it is being invented for the first time.

Andrew: Layers of true grown story is the focal point of the game.

Cate: The pinnacle of the game is to murder the mistress, which they fail to do so every night. Enact of supreme beauty is to commit a crime.

Benedict: Criminal vs. Saint.

Cate: There’s an enormous amount of erotic fantasy between the sisters and the mistress.

Benedict: The maids do not have anything the mistress has so they create the fantasy life. They accuse each other of who created the story and if they have the right to use it.

On seeing previous productions:

Isabelle: I’ve seen the play with my daughter, but knew the work.

Cate: I saw it when I was at uni in Melbourne with an all male cast.

On performing in an English spoken translation:

Isabelle: The biggest challenge is to do it in English. The roles could have been swapped. There’s an endless game of masks and realities of who you are. I’m happy with the part. Claire is more fascinated by Madame and the ideal of what she wants to do. Solange is a coward but also revolutionary.

Cate: Claire loves what she hates (mistress). Solange hates what she loves. Claire’s doing something she doesn’t want to do, always challenged. The subtext is the hardest part to activate in the play. Absolute fear keeps them in their place.

On the set design:

Benedict: Extremely naturalistic, there are live cameras to give the impression the actresses are being watched.

On any restrictions on staging by the Estate:

Andrew: We sent them the first draft and they have recently asked for the final version.

On whether being French made the play more accessible:

Isabelle: Not particularly. It’s a very real play but also abstract. On one hand, you relate to each character, n the other hand it raises questions. The play is in a more contemporary setting. Not sure, if I want to do it in French.

On hearing Madame’s name:

Elizabeth: No
Cate: (dryly) Cheryl
Andrew: The name was changed in the translation to Mistress and Master.

On the playing being made for male actors to perform the roles:

Benedict: Not entirely, that came from notes by prisoners. All plays (except for Death Watch) have the notion of a play within a play.

On being an emotionally charged play / any particularly challenging scenes:

Cate: Challenging because we didn’t know what the game was when first reading it. It had to be unpacked before the game made sense. The play is so open-ended, locking down decisions to go with the moment.

Isabelle: Every day.

On the pace of the play:

Benedict: Some slow paced scenes, others are really fast.

Andrew: I saw the 39 pages and thought I’ll be able to knock it over.

Cate: (joking) We’ll be at the bar in no time.

Andrew: So much depth in the play (in its 39 pages).

On making the choices:

Cate: Desperation

Benedict: Inventing it as it goes through desires and needs. We’ve started to fix it more like a score by coming to an agreement of how to play it.

The Maids runs at Wharf 1 from 4 June to 20 July.

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