Theatre Review
 

 

Home Reviewers

 

 

 

 

 

Elevate Theatre Company

Miss Julie

 

Amy Jayne Davis as Julie, Daniel McLoughlin as Jean

Photo by Robert Gooch

 

by August Strindberg

 

In a version by Frank McGuinness

 

Directed by Oliver Baird

 

Greenwich Playhouse

 

24 Aug – 19 Sept 2010

 

 


 

 

A review by Mags Gaisford for EXTRA! EXTRA!

When Miss Julie asked the Valet to kiss her shoe, she was biting off more than she could chew. Elevate Theatre Company’s production of Mc Guinness’s version of Strindberg’s naturalist masterpiece charts closely the 90 loaded minutes it takes for the Count’s daughter to tumble into tragedy.

As a woman with a noble father, Julie’s aristocratic status is entirely dependent upon her adherence to her allotted social role - that of the haughty mistress with a thinly - veiled romantic idealism. As a class hybrid with a murky feminist matriarchal lineage, however, she is teetering on the edge of perdition. It takes one false move: one drunken slip – up on midsummer’s eve for her dream pillar to come crashing down.

It is with the insolent naivete of a spoilt daddy’s girl that Miss Julie persists in taunting Jean, her father’s valet, with her feminine wiles. Jean, for whom high society has been a dream world since his hovel – based childhood  (the rose garden glimpsed from the onion beds) is now proud of his status, comfortable with his fiancé, Kristin, the chef, and happy to admire Miss Julie from afar. At first, then, he warily resists her advances. However, his carefully controlled ambition rises to the surface with his blood at her pertinacious seduction until it is too late to turn back.

What’s so clever about this play is that although there are only three characters on stage throughout, a whole social world is heavily present and directing their every move, so that the consequences of their social transgression seem entirely beyond their control. This unseen force is deftly suggested by the constant presence on stage of all three characters, with whoever is not in the direct action sitting, still acting, in the corner of Laura Cordery’s sophisticatedly subtle marble – effect set.

The two protagonists, though complex individuals in themselves, are pulled this way and that by influences and prejudices: so that it seems impossible for them ever to see each other for who they are. This is beautifully suggested in the climactic scene when all three characters chant the sinister servants’ song, as Kristin herself dishevels Julie and Jeans’ appearances, positioning them in an embrace with the determination of a puppeteer, eliciting uneasy associations on several levels, and begging further the question of agency.

Desire confuses social boundaries. This is why the moment of intimacy is so jarring and disastrous. Though love is mentioned at times by both Julie and Jean, there is no room for it here. It is replaced by panic and fear, and a crossfire in which hopelessly romantic dreams butt heads with sordid sexual power games. Attempts to reinforce the old prejudices serve only to reveal the impossibility of undoing the act. Jean, the ruthless sadist, ridicules Miss Julie, the helpless hysteric’s suggestion of joint suicide, replying that ‘it’s much better to open a hotel.’ Class and sex battle for superiority: ‘a servant is a servant’ and ‘a whore is a whore’.

This is a knotty, unforgiving interrogation of the psychology of class, sex and power. Strindberg’s ethos demands sparsity and no frills. Oliver Baird’s production lives up to this style, for the most part, with finesse. The decision not to mime the consumption of food and drink is perhaps distractingly ‘arty’, but otherwise the minimalism is highly effective.

There is serious pressure on the cast to create a sufficient amount of tension and urgency. The edgy pace they set pulls us along persuasively, if maybe a little too hastily in the earlier scenes. Daniel McLoughlin’s Jean and Amy Jayne Davis’s Julie take us sensitively through the gamut of emotions they contend with; their slight lack of chemistry distracts only a little from the drama.

Lucinda Westcar’s Kristin is suitably phlegmatic as a stalwart supporter of the status quo.
Her pious ‘camel–through–the–eye–of–a–needle’ speech engenders unexpected sympathy for the squirming Julie, and her stubbornness reminds us of that forbidding society, in which individuals are easily disposed of to maintain the patriarchal order.

Emma Goldmen wrote that the painted lady is inevitably the arch–villain for Strindberg, with his abhorrence of artifice. Stripped down to a state of whimpering hysteria and masochism, Miss Julie also embodies the popular, misogynistic, psychological theories of his day. It’s interesting to note that, like Julie, Strindberg himself was the product of parental class conflict.

In his world of Darwinian Evolutionism, perhaps Strindberg’s omnipresent power is the chief survivor - the rich white male pulling the strings. The Count’s presence is felt at mass time on the Sunday, as he stands in for the lost God, as someone to die for.

In his preface to ‘Miss Julie’ Strindberg wrote:

‘…the theatre has always been an elementary school for the young, the semi-educated, and women, who still retain the primitive capacity for deceiving themselves or for letting themselves be deceived, that is, for succumbing to illusions and to the hypnotic suggestions of the author…’

As the illusion of the production disperses, then, the grim reality of Belushi’s pub below Greenwich Playhouse hits in, with its’ countless football screens and student food smells. This production is slick and thought – provoking. But it’s not one for first dates.

 

 

Lucinda Westcar as Kristin, Daniel McLoughlin as Jean

Photo by Robert Gooch

 

 

0208 8589256

www.galleontheatre.co.uk

Tickets: £12, £10 concs.

Greenwich Station Forecourt
189 Greenwich High Road
London
SE10 8JA

 

 

 

 

 

Home Reviewers