Posts Tagged ‘Miss Julie’

Review – Miss Julie – Jermyn Street Theatre

May 3, 2019

Miss Julie seems to be the most consistently popular of August Strindberg’s works – so much so that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “straight” version of it. But this one, a new version by Howard Brenton, was set firmly in the era after trains and before cars, so there is no reason to wonder, for example, why Julie’s father doesn’t just ring ahead. Julie (Charlotte Hamblin) lives in a world where you can have a reputation to be ruined, where sleeping with a servant (Jean – James Sheldon) is a great way to do it, and if you’re so unfortunate as to be engaged to said philandering servant, you just have to put up (Kristin – Dorothea Myer-Bennett).

But that would all make it so easy and boring, wouldn’t it? The gorgeousness of this play comes in its wonderful moments of human interaction, all done completely naturally in the kitchen of the servant’s quarters. Jean has had a crush on Miss Julie since they were both children – or has he? – and Julie relishes being adored – or does she? – while Kristin toils all day with no thought for herself – or does she? As they interact, each of their selfish desires slowly unspools, and you, the audience, get a deeper and deeper look into the complex clockwork that whirls behind each character’s eyes. None of these people are altruists, but similarly – and sadly – none of them seems to have a very clear cut idea about how to pursue actual happiness beyond a short moment in time.

It’s fascinating to watch Julie, Jean, and Kristin go through their little dance together. Hamblin nicely captures both Julie’s huge enthusiasm for living, her cruelty, and her crumbling mind as she realizes she’s gone to far to be able to easily patch her life back together. Sheldon is dead handsome – easy enough to see a lady of the house flirting with him – and makes a great argument both for his essential equality with any other man and his inability to snap himself out of thinking like a servant. He was completely convincing all the way through, even though he was essentially disagreeing with what he had just said completely. And Myer-Bennett is a treat to watch as a woman who knows herself quite well and has far less illusions than either her mistress or her fiancee. The three of them have great chemistry and easily take us out of the workaday world into the explosive passions and ideals (and compromises) of their world.

With a tight running time of 90 minutes, Tom Littler’s production should have a breathless pace, but in fact there is more than enough time given to make the evening feel like it’s been all of a midsummer’s night – only not one with a pleasant dream. And every philosophical conversation in the play still feels fresh and sharp. There may be a million ways to update this play, but Littler shows that, stripped and raw and laid before us as if it were new, Miss Julie is still a tsunami of emotion until the lights go down.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Tuesday, April 30th, 2019. It continues in rep with The Creditors at the

Review – Mies Julie – Yael Farber at Riverside Studios

March 12, 2013

Not being one to travel to Edinburgh or read the New York Times‘ theater reviews (it’s just such a tease!), I wound up missing most of the pre-London hype surrounding Mies Julie, the updated version of Strindberg’s play set in modern South Africa. Even though the seriously hot posters in the Underground really caught my eye, I wasn’t going to go see a play I’d just seen last year, especially not way out west in Hammersmithville.

But then the Guardian put out a preview that really changed my mind. Thinking of that master/servant aesthetic suddenly reconfigured in the context of post-Apartheid South Africa … that’s a place where it would actually mean something. And apartheid didn’t end that long ago. In this context, being a bored, spoiled girl interested in playing with one of the servants … well, the stakes would be much, much higher than they are in my world, or in the world of a hundred and fifty years ago, when, even if you were a servant, you really could just pick up and leave and move to the big city. The original Miss Julie may have geuninely believed in her superiority to the servants, but how does it change if the people who you thought existed to serve you are now legally your equal? What if some of them have a grudge about their situation?

What if they’ve been there for a really long time and remember quite well how badly they were treated?

What if you’re actually living on their land?

Now THAT is the kind of powderkeg I wanted to see blow wide open on stage. Director/writer Yael Farber doesn’t have to make John (Bongile Mantsai) cultured and “nearly one of us;” from his accent to his body to the way he brushes boots and keeps busy doing chores every minute, he is fully “other;” but an incredibly sexy other. He has had a long relationship with the brittle, brutal Julie (Hilda Cronje, a bit one note but still charismatic), the only daughter of a Boer farmer who’s promised to put a bullet through the head of any (black) servant who dared touch her – and then shoot Julie. She’s fresh out of having her engagement broken, has a likely history of mental instability (mom committed suicide), and has the sultry, sex-focused vision of a girl just of age on a place where there’s really not a lot to do for fun. It’s inevitable that their desire will finally break down the huge barriers of class and race and history that divide them; when it does, it’s a tempest of a power that leaves King Lear’s looking like a few raindrops on an otherwise clear day. But with all of that attraction, all of that chemistry (woo! burning it up from the 20th row!), the sex just isn’t enough for them to change their lives into some new structure, no matter how much they dream. And really, just how much do they even like each other? Is John just trying to get revenge for the theft of his family’s land? Is Julie just looking for a way to frame John? Was it a mutual power trip? Is there even room for love in this tsumani?

What I love about Strindberg is that, in his plays, the games people play with each others minds never stop. Add into the mix John’s mom’s bone deep love (for John and Julie) and religious conviction (great performance by Thoko Ntshinga), the freaky spiritual connection with “home” (as represented by the ghost woman who also served, to me, as herald of impending death), and the shock-you-out-of-your-seats rawness of the sexual explosion between John and Julie and, as an audience member, you no longer know what to believe. Is this play a tragedy? Is it a political drama? Is it just the horrible truth of how fucked up people really are underneath the little skins of manners that society has us put on? That, I think, is Stringberg’s real truth, and Mies Julie hugely succeeds my making that gory, wretched, untamed core of human nature visible to the naked eye.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 10th, 2013. It continues at Riverside Studios through May 19th. Totally worth the trip to Hammersmith and as a bonus it’s only 80 minutes long. Phoar.)

Review – After Miss Julie – Young Vic

April 2, 2012

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.)