21 April 2016
I met with Laura Trad, director of this year’s French play, Les Bonnes, on a beautiful, sunny afternoon more befitting of springtime in Paris than our wee coastal Fife town. Les Bonnes, as one of Jean Genet’s most famous works, was written in 1947 and centres around two maids (the eponymous Bonnes) who variably fight and fantasise about murdering their Madame. Having had a great time appearing with Laura on-stage in last year’s French play, I was curious to find out more.
MG: Why did you decide on Les Bonnes as the French play this year?
LT: Well, first of all, Les Bonnes is a play I heard about back in high school. We watched the movie La Cérémonie,which is inspired by Les Bonnes, about two maids who work in a rich, bourgeois mansion – and which ends in tragedy. Secondly, if you remember last year when we did the French play, there was a part at the end about how the maid didn’t have a name – she was just La Bonne – and that’s quite recurrent in French theatre. But in Les Bonnes it’s the opposite because the two maids, Claire and Solange do have names whereas Madame is unnamed.
It’s also a way for St Andrews to discover Jean Genet and his theatre and it’s definitely something a bit different from what we usually get to see in St Andrews.
MG: It’s funny you mention the recurrent theme of the maids, because it’s something I’d picked up on – the French play this year, last year, and three years ago all featured maids in some capacity. Is there something about the French psyche there, something to be said about that?
LT: Yeah, I think that the French really do love putting maids in their plays – we might as well make it the quintessential maid play of the year! It’s also such a great character to have, because she’s so easy to recognise – you have the classic maid’s attire – you just put an apron on – and you can play with this theme in very diverse ways.
MG: Definitely. In the past, the French play has also had a good dose of humour in it, but Les Bonnes is described as violent et tragique – are there any moments of comic relief for the audience?
LT: The original play by Genet is a bit long, with a lot of monologues, so we actually decided to shorten it. And because the language is very poetic, it can easily become quite heavy. Editing the play then allowed me to make the plot more straightforward, and even a bit more light-hearted than the original, although it’s still very much a “tragic” play and you have moments that are very powerful between the two maids. We really wanted it to be almost tongue-in-cheek and to make it a bit lighter than the original, otherwise it would just be more like two French people yelling at each other for an hour. The character of Solange in particular, who’s played by Ludmilla d’Halluin, I think has really brilliant, funny moments at times because it takes this violence in the text and although it is still present on stage, it’s a little bit décalé – if I can express myself in French!
MG: Absolutely, it’s the French play after all!
LT: So I think we found a pretty good balance between what’s funny in Genet’s text and what really conveys the messages about class and femininity that are present in this play.
MG: And how did production of the play go? What was the biggest challenge you faced?
LT: Well, I think getting all of the group together was a bit difficult. My original job title was “Play Officer” which didn’t really specify who was going to be director, who was going to be producer etc. It all came from my personal idea and the whole aspect of communicating with enough people and finding the people who were going to be motivated, who were going to enjoy it and transform the vision that I had in my head originally was an interesting process. And because I’m not the most organised person, it was very important for me to find people who were organised so that they could take care of what I didn’t want to take care of!
MG: What then do you feel was the most important personal quality for you?
LT: Organisation, definitely. It was a lot more important than I had imagined at the beginning. I think I focused almost a bit too much on the directing aspect, on being a director, which meant that we maybe launched the event a bit too late. But at the end of the day because I have people around, like my producer Brianna Chu, who doesn’t speak French but is really efficient when anything needs done, we managed to have good communication with Mermaids and with the Barron Theatre in order to plan everything. I think it’s very important for the people who are in the play to really enjoy being involved because that’s really the whole point of putting a play together, so that those acting and those watching it are both entertaining and entertained.
MG: And has there been a moment for you that was particularly rewarding?
LT: Having our first rehearsal in costume in the Barron, that was a really great moment. We had most rehearsals in the classrooms in the Buchanan, which really doesn’t give it the same feeling as when you’re actually in the theatre and you can see how your efforts translate to being on stage. Especially after months of doing odd bits of the play in non-chronological order, because you’re in the process of smoothing everything out, and making everything clear and turning it into one play. So being able to see a glimpse of what the play was going to look like was very exciting.
MG: And how does everyone involved in the production get on? Is there a good atmosphere?
LT: Yes – it’s a very small cast, there are only three actresses, which is something I wanted when I was looking for a play in order to be able to really focus on every single one of the characters. So what we have is two actresses who are native French speakers, they’re both from Paris, and one who is English – and we’re really going to play on this. Last year it really worked well because non-native French speakers had a more English accent and that was well suited to the roles. So Ludmilla and Tahra, who are the maids, are going to speak with a French accent and Ciara, who plays Madame, will have an English accent. This will be very useful for when the maids’ obsession for Madame lead them to role-play.
MG: Ahh that’ll be interesting! Finally, how would you sum up the play in one word?
LT: Hmm… I’d say mise-en-abîme, which reflects the theatre-within-a-theatre idea. It really keeps the audience on the edge of their seat.
I look forward to being on the edge of mine when I see it.
Les Bonnes is showing in the Barron Theatre the 29th and 30th April at 19:30. Tickets are £5 on the door and can be reserved by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.