Cate Blanchett isn’t the biggest fan of the word “revival”. “It sounds like we’re trying to reanimate something dead,” she says.
The analogy seems apt, however, for a show as phantasmally dark as Sydney Theatre Company’s The Maids, opening at New York City Centre on Friday, more than a year since it played to Sydney audiences.
In the penthouse hotel room overlooking Central Park, Blanchett feigns dread at the prospect of finding her character again all this time later.
“Thanks for reminding me,” she says, massaging her temple.
In fact, she believes the show may be even improved the second time around.
“You can build on what you’ve done before – on the experience of having already performed it.”
Director Benedict Andrews, in town after ushering a production of A Streetcar Named Desire into considerable acclaim on the West End, is equally optimistic.
“So far it’s just been about rediscovering the play on the floor,” he says. “But it feels as if the play entered their bloodstream and has been working on them from the inside since.”
The STC’s relationship with audiences in New York is particularly strong. Among others, its celebrated production of Uncle Vanya played the Lincoln Centre Festival in 2012.
New York Times critic Ben Brantley, typically wary of hyperbole, called Uncle Vanya “among the happiest [three hours] of my theatre-going life”.
The Maids is theatre of a decidedly different complexion though. With a cast comprised of Blanchett, French actress Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debicki, there’s no shortage of exquisite celebrity wattage. But the play by Jean Genet itself is twisted and elusive,dominated by abysmal blackness and a video surveillance screen, with little of the lavishness some might be expecting.
If anything, Blanchett is invigorated by the prospect of surprising New York audiences.
“It is different – but I think it’s exciting. If anyone comes to Genet, they should be expecting to be shocked. Benedict has such a long relationship with the company, and there’s also something uniquely Australian about the vernacular of this reimagining of it.”
Although Andrews is also making his US debut with The Maids, he’s just satisfied to be back in the rehearsal room. “For me it’s really about reuniting with these three great performers.”
For Blanchett’s part, her STC co-artistic directorship nearly two years behind her, she is delighted as ever to still be trotted out on stage by the company.
“I’m married to the artistic director, so the umbilical cord hasn’t been severed,” she says. “It’s pillow talk now.”