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The Jamie Lloyd Season continues at the Trafalgar Studios with a powerful new revival of Jean Genet's play The Maids in a new version by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. Almost sixty years old, the play has been seen around the world, and continues to resonate with new audiences thanks to its powerful message and its ability to reflect concerns in wider society.
This new production stars three familiar actors of stage and screen, the multi-award winning star of 'Orange is the New Black' Uzo Abuda, writer and 'Misfits' star Zawe Ashton and the internationally recognisable star of 'Downton Abbey' Laura Carmichael.
We caught up with the three performers who are currently in rehearsal for The Maids which begins previews at the Trafalgar Studios on 20 February 2016.
Watch the video of our interview:
DOH: Congratulations on your SAG award last week! How did winning feel, especially in light of the current controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in awards ceremonies?
UA: You know, I felt really touched. The SAG awards are both nominated by actors and voted on by the actors, so I was really really touched. I can't think of another word other than to say that my fellow actors honoured me and I thought that was great. So many actors who I thought were phenomenal were also recognised and it was exciting to see what the power of the vote when placed in the hand of the artist looks like.
DOH: Cut to a week later – you're now preparing to star in your West End début...
UA: I know! Are you dying? I'm DYING! I actually can't fully put into words how much this means to me and how excited I am. I had three dreams when I moved to New York City. I wanted to do an Off-Broadway show, I wanted to do a Broadway show, and if I was lucky enough I wanted to do a show in the West End. And I've done those first two – and now I'm here doing the third. I feel so lucky and so grateful and so thankful. I just don't know what to say, I just love the theatre so much. The idea that I'm going to be around a community that celebrates, respects and uplifts the theatre in such a magnificent way, it doesn't get any better than that.
DOH: And here you are playing such a strong role in a play that features three strong females – that must be pretty special?
UA:I am beyond excited. The actor inside of me is excited. As a woman, there are great parts, but there are many plays in the 'traditional' set that feature only women in such as strong dynamic ways. So The Maids traditionally is a play that a lot of women want to make part of their catalogue. To be involved in any capacity, in any role – all three of them are fantastic – so to be able to get to do it here in the West End. AHHH! And to be able to get to do this play simultaneously is thrilling. I'm really quite excited.
DOH: The Maids is almost sixty years old – why will it resonate with a London audience in 2016?
UA: I think firstly we feel responsible to these characters and the truth of who they are, what they might do in terms of affecting one another, affecting the world that they live in and playing that out as authentically as we can. I feel only responsible to that. My wish is that people will walk away thinking somewhat more from a heightened place about what imprisonment feels like, and I don't mean that necessarily in the penal system I mean it in the sense of servitude and the sense of being trapped. Those people in our society who are living that as a daily experience whether its because of their financial condition or status or because of their working environment that people will be interested or invested in affecting change. I think what Jamie has said with regards to the climate of the world right now, I think it's impossible to sit in this house, watch this play and see two women convey to you and how they communicate with you, how they feel the foot on them, that we can't somehow attach the climate of the world today. I think a lot of people will feel it. It's amazing that a play as old as this has still a lot of the dust on it that can be translated to this modern time.
DOH: What initially drew you to this production?
LC: Working with Jamie I have to say. I've been a big fan of the plays he has directed. He always comes to classic plays with an exciting vision. It wasn't a play that I was that familiar with so reading it knowing that he would be at the helm. It's a really exciting play and a great adaptation. It was an all round exciting project – clear that it was going to be a great thing to work on.
DOH: Obviously you're very well known from Downton Abbey – how do you juggle work on both TV and the stage?
LC: It's really important to keep a hand in both. I love theatre – for most actors that's where you start out and that feels like your home, but it's good to get back on stage.
DOH: What do you think will shock audiences the most about The Maids?
LC:I call it quite a brutal play. These women are out for something very specific. It resonates with audiences today, the idea of repression. It's a very bare bones structure of these three characters on stage and I think it's a very brutal watch.
DOH: Do you feel extra resonance being in an all female production?
LC: I think it's very exciting to be in an all female production. It's so interesting that it doesn't happen so often, and it's really enjoyable and rare to have a play where you have three amazing roles for women. There's no short straw in terms of role – they're all brilliant.
DOH: What's does it mean to be in one of the most exciting companies in the West End?
ZA: It's amazing because it feels very new to be working in this way, but it also feels quite nostalgic in a way. Jamie and I have worked together before – we did a production of Oscar Wilde's Salome years ago and we've been waiting for the right time to reconnect and work together again. It's been amazing to see him grow as a director and everything he has done at this theatre is just so exciting. The two incredible actresses I'm cast alongside is also a huge part.
DOH: How did you find The Maids the first time you read it?
ZA: I watched it first at school and I fell in love with the play and deeply in love with Jean Janet, and have been a convert ever since. His material has kept crossing my path – I did another searing political piece of his at drama school, so coming back to his world seems a bit surreal – it's like I'm 14 again in a way.
DOH: Is it difficult to juggle your writing and acting career simultaneously?
ZA: I have no idea how I juggle the three of them! I don't have a preference – it feels like every time I write I have a desire to act, and every time I act it gets the juices flowing to write and it's great that the two can live side by side in me even though I don't get much sleep.
DOH: How do you think audiences in London in 2016 will respond to this play?
ZA: I feel really excited to see how people will respond to this play. When you get to know the play you see how ambitious it really is and how difficult it is to own the material. Getting inside the play even more and the context we're doing it in has blown it open again for me. It'll be divisive I hope.
The Maids is running at the Trafalgar Studios from 20 February to 21 May 2016.