(Matt Trueman’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/20.)
Jean Genet’s maids were real. In 1933, the Papin sisters, Christine and Léa, murdered their mistress and her daughter, maiming their bodies and gouging out their eyes, before being found naked in bed together. The French dramatist turned their act into a theatrical ritual; a stark and shocking cycle of fetishistic role-play with its own absurd logic. Making her full Toneelgroep debut after last year’s Brandstichter retrospective (an accolade that translates as “arsonist”, given to an artist who might put some fire into Dutch theatre), British director Katie Mitchell restores their reality. It is as radical a gesture as any.
Claire and Solange are usually abstract, symbolic figures. Earlier this year, Jamie Lloyd put them in identical pinafores in a roomful of rose petals. Mitchell sews them into our world: two middle-aged women in tabards and marigolds shuffling around the sort of luxurious, lily-white bedroom you might find off Sloane Square. One rifles through the owner’s vast walk-in wardrobe, dowdy among its dazzling gowns, while the other, coughing blood at the dressing table, pulls on her bodyshapers, falsies and glossy blond wig.