Swifties is a tale of two young women who deal with their boring and unfulfilled lives by pretending to be Taylor Swift and her fan/member of her Squad. Isabella Niloufar (soon to be seen in the National Theatre’s production Salome) is the violent Nina who plays the obsessive to Yasmin’s (Tanya Cubric) Taylor. The productions adapts The Maids as it takes the obsession with a rich employer to an obsession with celebrity, which is relevant at a time where it feels like we know a celebrity’s every move; if not through paparazzi then through their social media. Nearly forty years on from John Lennon’s death the extent of the girls’ obsession not only with a celebrity but with the idea of being famous and successful through association is still frightening.
The emotions of being a poor millennial in small town are strong in this play but it is difficult not to compare it to Genet’s production, especially when a high profile production appeared only last year. What makes The Maids an exciting piece of work is the sexual tension, not just between the sisters but the obvious sexual intent towards their master and mistress. There is no sexual tension here, any attempts at a violent Sub/Dom fall a bit flat but the emotional relationship; the blur between fantasy and reality, between Yasmin and Nina is strong. You can believe they have known each other a long time, you can believe they are dependent with an ability to turn on each other quite easily but the real tension should be sexual but the relationship Stenton has given them (friends rather than siblings) means that it wouldn’t feel wrong if it were to happen and the drama that comes from that relationship isn’t worth investing in.
It is a very accessible and beautifully performed 75-minutes from Niloufar, who is French and whether intentional or not it felt like a great callback to the original work and Cubric, who ranges from the confidence of the dominant Swift to subordinate Nina in a second and creates a lot of tension just through her performance. It helps that director Luke Davies embraces the small space of Theatre N16, keeping the action in a hotel room.
Tom Stenton’s adaptation of a classic play is exactly the sort of production that should get young (and old) interested in theatre relevant to them but this two-hander misses what makes Jean Genet’s The Maids still shocking today.