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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions