THE CRITICS: THEATRE: The servants are revolting

The Maids Young Vic, London Germaine Greer's Lysistrata Battersea Arts Centre, London Nude With Violin Royal Exchange, Manchester Love Letters Haymarket, London

Twice has been enough. I'm never going to another production of The Maids. Even the first one, two years ago at the Donmar, seemed to go on for a couple of hundred years. But Katie Mitchell's new production of Jean Genet's first play runs an achingly slow two hours and 20 minutes without an interval. In a hot, stuffy auditorium, I felt that entire swathes of the audience were willing the maids to hurry up and drink that poison.

It started well. The maids scurried round the dimly-lit bedroom like mice, whispering furtively as they took out the mistress's clothes. It looked as if Mitchell was bringing the same depth and comic attack that marked out her Endgame. And Mitchell has cast three strong younger actresses in the three roles. Anastasia Hille has an angular fretfulness as Claire; Aisling O'Sullivan, a hunched, compacted figure, suggested that Solange's whole physique has been warped by her economic servitude. When the mistress arrives, a strident Angela Clerkin puts a new spin on the mistress-maid axis by suggesting that, not long ago, this vulgar mistress might have been a maid.

The trouble with Mitchell's painstaking, archaeological approach to directing - digging ever deeper into the text - is that you can bury what's on the surface. Mitchell has taken Genet's gay fantasy and turned it into a studied piece of naturalism. The low-level lighting alone is a tribute to the Young Vic's policy on energy savings.

In the period gloom we pick out old-fashioned radiators and vases with lilies. As footsteps creak back and forth on the parquet floor, we are drawn into an increasingly turgid melange of themes. Yes, there's "ritual" and "ceremony" and "colonialism" and "power struggles" and "sado-masochism" and "Catholicism": it's all here if you have an A-level essay to write. It's just that it never has any stage vitality. We're trapped in an airless, hermetic world that Mitchell renders with infinite care and taste. Torture.

There's a tremendously liberating lack of good taste in Phil Willmott's production of Germaine Greer's Lysistrata: The Sex Strike. Back in 1971, during the Vietnam War, Kenneth Tynan invited the author of The Female Eunuch to write a new version of Aristophanes's comedy. It was only performed once - as a solo act by Greer herself, at the Public Theatre in New York. Now Willmott has produced a very British production, as saucy and breezy as a seaside postcard, a Hellenic version of Up Pompei that rivals Greer's racy, forthright version. Both catch the Aristophanic spirit.

Lysistrata is the one where the women refuse to sleep with their husbands unless the husbands on both sides stop fighting the Peloponnesian war. Willmott should receive some sort of Joan Littlewood award for the way he brings popular showbiz techniques to the subject of war. He treats Lysistrata as if it's a musical. The Athens bath-house, where the sex strike takes place, has the look of a cartoon. The Spartan Women jog down to the baths in their towels, chanting: "Spartan girls are fit and tough/ We can take it hot and rough." One reason why the action never lets up is that Willmott directs each scene as if it were a number.

Willmott's muse is clearly Marilyn Monroe, whom we hear singing on the soundtrack. The stage is awash with libido. There are loads of phallic jokes, and thankfully, none of them are coy. The women shriek and squeal and lust after the guys. The guys in turn find it as hard to come to terms with women having a point a view as they do in coming to terms with enforced abstinence. This Lysistrata is fast, broad, silly and profound. The cast perform it with tremendous energy as if the whole event is a party. I loved it.

Nude With Violin is yet another Coward centenary revival. Someone talked it up to me as an early version of Art, but whereas Art uses an almost-white canvas as a pretext for examining male friendship, Nude With Violin simply expresses its disdain towards modern art. But satire never works if the satirist is untroubled by his subject.

Thirty years after The Vortex and Hay Fever, Coward's comic devices have become routine. Every time the phone rings (which it does frequently) the multilingual valet answers it in a different language. As the silky valet, Derek Griffiths is highly competent, and Marcia Warren, the former wife of the painter, who manages to misunderstand every remark, is a delight.

But if the director, Marianne Elliot, had wanted to make this satire pertinent, she should have cast it as young as she could possibly could. If nothing else, Nude With Violin does the Royal National Theatre a good turn. Next week it revives another play of 1956, Look Back in Anger. Anyone who wants to discover what all the fuss was about need only catch Nude With Violin first.

Mr and Mrs Paul Newman have already played the roles. Now it is the turn of Mr and Mrs Charlton Heston to play the man and woman who correspond across a lifetime in A R Gurney's Love Letters. I only wish Mr and Mrs Reagan had had a go. It doesn't look hard: the two actors sit at desks and read from scripts. This the Hestons do fine.

This show is full of incidental interest. I didn't realise that the first vice-president of the National Rifle Association of America had an actress wife. (No jokes, please, about shotgun weddings.) Secondly, Charlton Heston's programme notes are a model of unembarrassed self- esteem: "He travelled to Vietnam twice ... [and] rode a chopper to remote combat areas that other entertainers could not reach ..."

Love Letters is a tribute to niche marketing: an American play with American actors pulling in an American audience on holiday in London. This is essentially a radio play, and for long stretches you could concentrate on those familiar handsome features. They may look as old as the century, but they have been lovingly preserved. I wish I could say the same for Charlton Heston. His boyish grins and frowns never exerted the same appeal as the gilded interior of the Haymarket.

`The Maids': Young Vic, SE1 (0171 928 6363) to 7 August; `Lysistrata': BAC, SW11 (0171 223 2223) to 4 August; `Nude With Violin': Royal Exchange, Manchester (0161 833 9833) to 7 August; `Love Letters': Haymarket, SW1 (0171 930 8800) to 1 August

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us