Friday, 10 July 2015

Dramaturgy Bared: The Maids @ Edfringe 2015

All-female company present a fierce, visceral production of Genet’s
iconoclast drama, in a biting and rare translation by Martin Crimp
All Bare present 

The Maids
By Jean Genet
Translated by Martin Crimp
Directed by Jesse Haughton-Shaw. Designed by Lizzy Hajos. Produced by Celeste Harper Davis.
Venue: theSpace @Surgeons Hall (V53) Date: Fri. 7th – Sat. 22nd Aug.2015 (Excl. Sunday 9th 16th)

A bit of role-play never hurt anyone, right?
Two maids play a game of murder. Their mistress doesn’t know the half of it. Sisters Claire and Solange play out fantasies of domination and humiliation, and playing soon turns to plotting.

Inequality is the political buzzword of the moment, and The Maids looks at this in its rawest form: those who have power and those who don’t. Neither comes out looking rosy.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Jesse Haughton-Shaw: It really began with the script – the intersection of Jean Genet and Martin Crimp. I had read The Maids in another translation and loved the way it addressed corrupting power in relationships, as well the search for release and absolution in fantasy. When I discovered that Martin Crimp had translated it, I searched madly for a copy, which was very hard to come by. 

I love Crimp’s plays, and I thought the delicate and disquieting manner with which he deals with cruelty would speak very well to Genet’s sensibilities. I’m very pleased to say, I was right. Crimp’s translation melts biting lyricism into Genet’s imagistic energy. I almost didn’t read it though – the copies on amazon are priced at over £3000, which is around the same size as our whole budget! 

the mistress
I ended up shipping a copy over from a friend in Glasgow, who found it at the conservatoire library. I only needed to read a couple of pages before I was out hunting for my own copy, which I finally found through shamelessness and the wonders of social media.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
At the Fringe, you can rub shoulders with so many different kinds of theatre and performance. We’re a very young company, and the energy that’s put out by such the passionate and eclectic mix of people at Edinburgh is an incredible thing to situate your work within. The audiences in Edinburgh are unique – they’re so willing to be engaged, and at the same time, they have high expectations. They won’t put up with dull theatre. They’ll push us to up our game. There’s no point doing something half-baked in Edinburgh, because you can always find someone else doing it better.

And of course, it’s great fun!

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of
your production?
They can expect intense energy. I hope they’ll feel exhilaratingly disturbed. Maybe they’ll think about if power works for us, if fantasy works for us, what kind of roles we like to play. I like that I’m not sure – this will be our first run of this play, and it’s exciting not knowing what the audience will bring to it or take from it. That’s the thrill, on both sides, I think.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Dramaturgy is such a fluid process, I find it’s affecting and contributing to the work constantly. Working with a finished script, the dramaturgical process becomes about clarity and fair interpretation. 

Before rehearsals begin, I do a lot of work with the script, researching background and interrogating images and ideas. Historical research is helpful; the play is not naturalistic, nor are its ideas rooted exclusively in the time it was produced, but there are points of understanding that can only be reached by knowing the world in which it was written. 

Practically, knowing that ‘La Martinière’ was a ship that transported convicts to the penal colonies is very helpful for understanding one particular line in the play. Lots of the questioning and muddling through I did with a dramaturg friend. We spent time discussing and deciding upon the structure of the onstage world – there’s a bit of roleplay and it gets complicated, so it was important to be as precise as possible about the rules.

The dramaturgical process continues in rehearsal, just in a less formalized way – conversation is replaced with play and trying things out, but the forming and reforming of the ideas and thoughts continues. Finally, when rehearsals are drawing to a close, it’s hugely useful to have another considered and critical eye on things. In the week before the festival, we’re planning a casual preview for a few trusted friends whose thoughts will provide some of the final fodder for tweaks and clarifications. This continual careful reconsideration, muscular readjustments and openness to the direction ideas flow in, is what makes great dramaturgy for me.

What particular traditions and influences would you
acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?In the same way as I find it hard to see the family resemblance between myself and my mum (although I have been assured of it countless times), I find it very hard to catalogue my influences. At the moment, I am deeply in love with Anne Bogart’s writing on theatre, and certainly they’ve been floating around my mind.

The biggest influences on the theatre I make are the people I make it with, and the friends and family who I talk to about it. Thanks to them – they are long-suffering.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
My process involves lots of chatter, lots of serious playing, and lots of asking questions. Making theatre, for me, is always a collaborative process, which is what drew me to it. I like making with others; I like respectful combat and negotiations because it comes from a place of mutual interest and passion for a project.

We begin in discussion and workshop, understanding and expanding on ideas in the play, trying to remain on our feet and physically exploring the limits of the thing. I don’t like to block too aggressively until later – openness is always key.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I gravitate towards plays that are interested in the way theatre functions as well as the content conveyed, and so the audience are always a part of the meaning created by the play. More than this though, the audience do make the meaning. I hope we open out ideas and emotions for the audience to jump into and make their own meanings with – theatre that encourages thought and feeling and banishes didacticism.

Aside from the big words, the audience provides the energy and the reason for theatre. We are hopelessly in their debt.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I’m still working it out myself!

The Maids was inspired in part by the gruesome murder of a mistress by her two maids, the infamous Papin sisters, in Le Mans, 1933. The two maids killed their mistress and the mistress’s daughter and gouged out their eyes. The macabre case was pored over by the media, by intellectuals and by artists.
About All Bare

Theatre is people laid bare. All Bare is a new, all-female theatre company. We aim to make dynamic theatre that is alive and looking for different ways of thinking about and questioning the world we live in. We believe emotion is not the enemy of reason and we work in essentials. All Bare is committed to promoting women in theatre, onstage and off. The Maids is All Bare’s debut production.
Our Production

Performances of Martin Crimp’s translation are relatively rare, and copies are hard to get hold of – it is currently priced on Amazon at £3,981.38. This will be an exciting opportunity to experience what we think is the most exciting translation of Genet’s play.

Inequality in the UK
The contract of inequality between mistress and maid is not a thing of the past. We tend to think that servants died out after the Second World War, but the domestic service industry lives on in the UK. We don’t call them ‘servants’ – we give them more comfortable titles: cleaners, child-minders, home helps, au pairs, tutors. And it’s not just the 1% who employ them - 10% of UK households now employ some sort of domestic help. Domestic service has not disappeared, it has been diversified and recategorised.

Britain is the only country in the G7 that has seen economic inequality increase in the 21st century. And if we’re going to look at inequality, so easy to reduce to statistics and political fodder, we need to look at people.

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