STEP ASIDE, SOLANGE and Claire. Forget the clichéd sexy French maids’ garb with stockings and suspenders, frilly aprons and cleavage. With domestic servants like Bontle (Dimakatso Motholo) and Flo (Mammatli Thakudi-Nzuza), the strategic and oft sinister plotting between siblings and subservients, coined in Jean Genet’s iconic play The Maids (1947), is ramped up to a new level of relevance, and the audience is kept splendidly in the know and the now, in this extremely fine production.
You may have seen earlier performances of The Maids. In drag. With white women. Playing heavily on the period style of the set. You may have read sociological studies on the relationship between a maid and her madam. You may know the blatant and blunt stereotypes in Zukiswa Wanner’s Maid in SA: 30 Ways to Leave Your Madam (2013). Between Sisters is a fresh take on all the values offered by these disparate works, ideas and perspectives on servants, as it gleefully knits together volatile and prescient issues central to the identity and complexity of domestic maids in contemporary South Africa.
Ultimately, it’s a work about power. And manipulation. But it’s seldom what you think; there’s a couple of fabulous little twists in the tale, which quite take you by surprise. But the roaring success of the work is hinged on exceptionally strong performances by Motholo and Thakudi-Nzuza and a beautifully and utterly irreverently written script which conjoins everything from contemporary Sesotho slang to David Tlale fashions.
With vicious irony and sinister intent, these sisters, who wield insults like fully-loaded weapons and monger hate like professionals, skirt and titter around dresses, money and cups of tea in ways that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There’s a brilliant mix of evil intent and hilarity, secret plots and open lies that make this a delicious work to watch, whether you know Sesotho or not.
Featuring simple yet wise design elements that cast you, as the audience, right in the thick of the luxurious bedroom of ‘Madam’ (Reneilwe Mashitisho), effectively on the other side of her mirror, the work is pared down succinctly, and a novel use of suspended elements adds to a sense of idiosyncrasy.
But more than a socially sophisticated yarn about three women, money and role-playing that is oft less about idle pretense than you think, this is an important theatrical gesture. It brings the fire and the fury and the astuteness of young theatre practitioners to the fore, stretching their performance mettle, but also inflaming their sense of relevance. This is a play which must travel.
- Between Sisters is directed by Refiloe Lepere and devised by Lepere with the cast. It features design by Sinenhlanhla Zwane and Natalie Paneng (set and costumes). It is performed in the Wits Downstairs Theatre by Reneilwe Mashitisho, Dimakatso Motholo and Mammatli Thakudi-Nzuza, as part of the Sex Actually Festival, hosted by Drama For Life, at Wits Theatre complex in Braamfontein, until September 10. Visit dramaforlife.co.za