Review – After Miss Julie – Young Vic

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So what do YOU really know about Strindberg? Well, what I knew is that his play, The Creditors, was a masterpiece of psychological drama – it displayed an incredible insight into the weird squirreliness of the human mind, which apparently hasn’t changed all that much in the last century. Jealousy, the fear of looking weak to others, saving face, these are the horrible things that motivate people to act in ways that seem not intuitively to work in their favor, and this is what Strindberg wrote about in The Creditors – giving me hope that I’d see similar excavations of the psyche in The Young Vic’s production of After Miss Julie (adapted from Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Patrick Marber).

After Miss Julie takes on very different sets of concerns (and I can’t say how much is Strindberg and how much is Marber). It’s set right after the war, and its characters are overwhelmed by the concept of class/work status and what it means in terms of their relations with each other. Miss Julie herself (Natalie Dormer) is freakishly attracted to the sense of power she has as a member of the ruling class, yet at the same time wants to be ordered around. Chauffeur John (Kieran Bew) seems smart enough and has experienced equality as a soldier, but still jumps when the master calls. And Christine (Polly Frame) has a strong understanding of what behavior is required of her and her fiance John while working within the “master’s” household … and how personal morals may be compromised while you’re in service.

Julie’s strange sexuality – a virgin with dominatrix tendencies and a boiling passion – seems to dominate her odd little mind. She doesn’t come off as particularly sympathetic, what with her willingness to be completely callous to people whose economic livelihoods she controls. She provides some background for her “odd” belief in the essential equality of the sexes late in the play, but it all doesn’t seem to add up to a girl who has her fiance jumping over a riding crop and her lover kissing her shoes.

Almost as curious is John, with his stories of having loved Miss Julie forever polluted permanently by his later callous statements and ultimate disassociation with her plight. I don’t want to give too much away, but … how much of what he said was real? How much of it was to try to manage a person who was clearly over the brink? How many of it was someone just trying to write something that made good theater? Ultimately, at 90 minutes I found this an extremely engaging show (until about the last ten, which dragged), though its resolution was entirely too neat. Still – a lovely intimate space filled with the smell of freshly made toast, three people who, even if they were not entirely making sense, were at least worth thinking about … it all made for a night of nice drama. And toast. Mmmm.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, March 31st, 2012. It runs through April 14th. No parakeets were harmed during this performance, I’M SURE.)

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