This review was originally written for The Public Reviews website
Developed as part of the August Strindberg 2012 celebration (the centenary of Strindberg’s death in 1912), UK Touring Theatre is currently on tour presenting a new English translation of Miss Julie. The English translation is from an ensemble re-working of the original Swedish text and developed further through improvisations with the actors.
Strindberg’s original play was banned in the UK for fifty years when first written and shocked critics across Europe with its frank portrayal of sexuality and inter-class relationships in 19th century society. Miss Julie is nowadays widely regarded as Strindberg’s masterpiece. Its vivid depiction of a divided class system and of destructive sexual politics has received worldwide critical acclaim.
This production follows the traditional route and sets the one act play in the claustrophobic kitchen of the Count’s Swedish manor house. It is Midsummer’s Eve 1888. The unseen servants are enjoying a party in the barn outside. The aristocratic Miss Julie’s (Felicity Rhys) behaviour is being criticised in the kitchen and talk is of how she appears to be attracted to the socially ambitious Jean (Adam Redmayne), her father’s valet. Jean deflects his fiancée’s irritation at this news by making a joke of the situation. Miss Julie is perceived as creating a degree of scandal by dancing and flirting with the male servants and for behaving strangely and erotically with her own recently departed fiancé. Over the Midsummer evening a fair amount of alcohol is consumed and seemingly harmless flirtations between valet and the privileged Miss Julie soon plummet into an intoxicated and furious power struggle between the socially uneven lovers. To add to the problems Jean’s housekeeper fiancée Kristin (Sioned Jones) is pulled into the battle zone and the play explores the themes of psychological manipulation, lust and lies.
The subtle lighting design (Crin Claxton) and specially composed atmospheric dance music (Annelie Nederberg) add much to build the tension in this production directed by Denis Noonan.
Rhys and Redmayne as the two leads keep the play moving along at a varied and fast pace with some quality acting but, somehow slightly lack that real earthy, erotically charged nature that leads the characters to behave in the extreme way they do in the story. That is not to say that their character portrayals lacked interest or lust, far from it, and Rhys comes into her own in the power charged manic explosion and desperate emotional vocal mix blending anger and pleading that tips Miss Julie over the edge.
Both actors deal well with the complex nature of the play text that slides from naturalistic to dream-like from scene to scene and Jones as the grounded fiancée, Kristin, is very convincing in her role as the sober moral compass. Redmayne conveys well the convoluted character of Jean as a man with his eye on the main chance but is brought down to earth when his dreams of running away with Miss Julie are smashed by the concerns of having no finance to back themselves with and grave doubts over the longevity of the torrid relationship and a real terror of the Count returning home.