MISS JULIE, Bread & Roses Theatre - Review

August Strindberg’s Miss Julie has always been popular, but in recent years there has been an upsurge of interest. Looking beyond its 19th Century setting, there was an adaptation from Toronto in 2009 set during the Civil Rights Era, with Julie recontextualised as the daughter of a plantation owner and John as her father's African-American chauffeur. More recently we’ve also had the global tour of Yael Farber's contemporary reworking (Mies Julie) which was set in the nascent post-apartheid South Africa. While the influence of European aristocracy has significantly changed and diminished in the past century, groups of different social strata are a universal constant. The play’s universality and adaptability to almost any socioeconomic group has undoubtedly contributed to the longevity of its popularity and relevance. Having a play that is approaching almost as much familiarity in the public consciousness as Hamlet, what’s left for there to say about this battle of the sexes?

Tessa Hart, the artistic director of The Bread & Roses Theatre has chosen Miss Julie as their first full in-house production, adapting and updating Strindberg’s original play. Rather than be encumbered by Strindberg’s own inferences as to who ‘won’, Hart has set the play in the present and explored not only the independently wealthy socialite versus career-driven hotelier, but the opportunity for women to govern their own destinies.

Kept to a cast of three (onstage) with addition voiceovers, Hart’s Miss Julie is a lesson in economic storytelling. Focusing on Christine (Grace Dunne), John (Adam Alexander) and Miss Julie (Rebecca Pryle) this menage a trois is a feast for the eyes. While perhaps not on stage as long as ‘the lovers’, Dunne is certainly no third wheel, dramatically speaking. Caught in the crossfire between two irresistible forces, she is the one unequivocal casualty of the frenzied Tarantella that unfolds.

Alexander portrays John as a person with an undercurrent of activity beneath the surface, intelligence as well as dogged determinism. Pryle, meanwhile, strikes a balance as both beguiling and the beguiled, mistress of all – except of her own desires and piece of mind.

As you would expect, the chemistry between the actors who play Julie and John is electric, practically palpable. However, while Strindberg saw John and Julie as adversaries – especially in the latter half of the play – Hart chooses not to make either ‘winner’ or ‘loser’. Instead, we see how John seeks to translate his ambitions into a practical way to support Julie and himself. Julie, meanwhile, compares her life to what her mother endured and does a lot of soul searching regarding her choices.

It’s telling that the coda of The Beatles’ Blackbird (an inspired addition that repeats in the play) encapsulates the essence of Miss Julie: You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

© Michael Davis

Miss Julie runs at the Bread & Roses Theatre until 16th May 2015.

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Author's review: 
5