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The Maids

For the 1974 film adaptation, see The Maids (film).

The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris in a production that opened on 17 April 1947, which Louis Jouvet directed.[1] A film adaptation of the play was released in 1974. Swedish composer Peter Bengtson (sv) adapted the play in 1994 for a chamber opera.


Genet loosely based his play on the infamous sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933. In an introduction written for The Maids, Jean-Paul Sartre quotes a line from Genet's novel Our Lady of the Flowers in which a character muses that if he had a play written for women he'd cast adolescent boys in the parts. Sartre then speculates on having this idea applied to The Maids.[2] Some productions have cast men in the roles, but most have cast women.[3]


Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying both sides of the power divide. Their deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously "killing" Madame at the ritual's dénouement.

Production history

In Britain, the play was first presented in French by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, initially at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, London in 1952.[4] Peter Zadek directed, while Eduardo Paolozzi provided the scenic design. Selma Vaz Dias played Solange, Olive Gregg played Claire, and Oriel Ross played Madame. The production subsequently transferred to the Royal Court Theatre, where Betty Stockfeld played Madame and David de Bethel provided the scenic design. Zadek also directed the play's first production in Britain in English, which opened on 5 June 1956 at the New Lindsey Theatre Club. Selma Vaz Dias again played Solange and Betty Stockfeld played Madame, while Hazel Penwarden played Claire.

The play was produced at Tempo Playhouse in New York City in 1955, with Julie Bovasso originally as Claire and later as Solange. Bovasso won the first best actress Obie award for The Maids. [5]

Minos Volanakis directed the play at the Oxford Playhouse in 1963.[6] This production was reprised in 1964 in a double bill with Bertolt Brecht's The Exception and the Rule.[7]

The play was revived at the Greenwich Theatre in 1973 with the actresses Vivien Merchant as Madame, Glenda Jackson as Solange and Susannah York as Claire. This production was filmed as part of the American Film Theatre series in 1974, directed by Christopher Miles and photographed by Douglas Slocombe.

An all-male production was staged in Moscow in 1992, a major breakthrough for Russian theater at the time.[citation needed]

In Canada, a 2011 production at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto, Ontario, used female and male casting, with the roles of Solange and Claire played by Diane D'Aquila and Ron Kennell.[3]

A 2013 Sydney Theatre Company production, adapted by Andrew Upton and directed by Benedict Andrews, starred Cate Blanchett as Claire, Isabelle Huppert as Solange, and Elizabeth Debicki as the Mistress.[8][9] The production moved to New York City in August 2014.[10]


  1. ^ Genet 1989, p. 33 and Banham 1998, p. 417
  2. ^ Genet 1989
  3. ^ a b "Veteran actor Diane D'Aquila sharpens her theatrical edge". The Globe and Mail, September 19, 2011.
  4. ^ Genet 1963, p. 6
  5. ^ Tallmer, Jerry (23 May 1956). "Theatre: The Maids". The Village Voice. 
  6. ^ Chapman 2008, p. 184
  7. ^ Chapman 2008, p. 186
  8. ^ STC – The Maids
  9. ^ Verghis, Sharon (June 1, 2013). "Maids of dishonour, Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Debicki, unite for STC's Genet". The Australian. 
  10. ^ "Theater Listings for Aug. 1–7". New York Times. July 31, 2014. 
  • Banham, Martin, ed. (1998). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-43437-8. 
  • Chapman, Don (2008). Oxford Playhouse: High and Low Drama in a University City. Hatfield: U of Hertfordshire P. ISBN 1-902806-87-5. 
  • Genet, Jean (1963). The Maids. Translated by Bernard Frechtman. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-05461-7. 
  • Genet, Jean (1989). The Maids and Deathwatch: Two Plays. Translated by Bernard Frechtman. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-14856-5. 
  • Oswald, Laura (1989). Jean Genet and the Semiotics of Performance. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP. ISBN 0-253-33152-8. 
  • Savona, Jeannette L. (1983). Jean Genet. New York: Grove Press Modern Dramatists. ISBN 0-394-62045-3.