BWW Review: MISS JULIE, Etcetra Theatre, February 24 2016
It's 127 years since August Strindberg's Miss Julie was first performed, but, in a week when yet another report shows how the UK is failing to improve its social mobility, its themes remain as contemporary as ever.
We're in a downstairs kitchen of a Swedish manor house (beautifully designed by Carla Goodman, right down to the authentic labels on the beer bottles) where Jean, a valet, has just returned from Midsummer Night's dancing upstairs on occasion with Miss Julie, the headstrong daughter of the Count. Jean is engaged to Kristin, a cook who is happy with her churchgoing and society's status quo: he is well-read, well-travelled and determined to better himself, no matter how difficult that looks from the bottom rung of society's ladder. So when Miss Julie, all bee-sting lips and thwarted sexuality (her engagement to a lawyer has recently been broken off) invades both Jean's professional and personal space, the old boundaries collapse and won't be put back together in the same way.
Buckland Theatre's Miss Julie (at Etcetera Theatre until 19 March) is an intense 100 minutes or so of steaming passions: love, hate, lust, envy, pride - indeed, there's probably all seven deadly sins here and another seven thrown in for good measure! At times, you feel the audience bristle at Jean's cynical cruelty, stiffen at Miss Julie's ignorant remarks and almost yearn to tell Kristin to get out of this awful menage-a-trois. But, just as we're trapped behind the fourth wall, the characters are trapped in their roles as allocated by a society ruled by hierarchy.
All three actors do director Gary Condes proud. Danielle Henry may play the least educated and lowliest of the three, but she invests Kristin with a quiet dignity and an understandable desire to stick with what she knows. Charlie Dorfman has the look of a young Sacha Baron-Cohen and radiates suppressed anger from start to finish. He's a selfish monster of course, but Dorfman makes us empathise with Jean's predicament - why should he kowtow to those whom he knows to be less talented than him? Laura Greenwood convinces as the temptress, her hair always threatening to tumble free, her buttoned-up dress not quite covering her soon to be sullied skin. Her reaction to the adult world's demands barging into her child-like fantasies is horrible to behold - Greenwood also provokes sympathy for her character's plight. As in so much in real life, nobody is wholly to blame for what happens, but nobody is without guilt either.
Miss Julie is a great classic of naturalistic theatre and should be seen at least once by anyone with a serious interest in the stage. Delivered in this intimate room above a pub seating just 42, with fine performances and tight direction, this is as impressive an example of the masterpiece as any. You probably need a very good reason to miss it.