BWW Review: MISS JULIE, Jermyn Street Theatre
Miss Julie returns to London wearing the outstanding threads previously seen in Tom Littler's production at Jermyn Street Theatre in 2017. The new run plays in rep with Creditors, the other August Strindberg-Howard Brenton endeavour presented by the company and acts as an echo chamber for the thematic veins of the other.
The Swedish Midsummer's Eve celebrations are in full swing. Dances, songs, and merriment trigger Julie, the Earl's daughter, to embrace her rebellious nature publicly. As she starts shamelessly teasing Jean, her father's astute manservant who desperately wants to climb the ladder, what began as playful provocation becomes a cutthroat game of class and domination.
James Sheldon and Charlotte Hamblin reprise their roles as the servant and his mistress, while Dorothea Myer-Bennett is introduced as humble Kristin. Littler turns up the erotic qualities of the first half of the play, magnifying the chemistry between Hamblin and Sheldon with a controlled direction of Strindberg's silences.
He toys with tension and release, building a pressure cooker of a show that explodes in single, contained detonations that overwhelm the characters. He weighs every movement with exact precision and achingly measures each pause in a breathless (and effortlessly sexy) waltz that suddenly turns into a hunt for blood.
The shadow of duty and status quo is ever-looming in Louie Whitemore's stage, which offers a few small changes in the fully functional kitchen. A big, white table owns the room while pots and pans sit on shelves or hang from them. The bucolic setting is heightened by the constant tweeting of birds and natural noises designed by Max Pappenheim.
Sheldon and Hamblin are impeccable. Established in the previous production, the magnetism of their exquisitely crafted characters has only increased. She stands in perfect opposition to Myer-Bennett's Kristin, Jean's devoted fiancée and cook in the Earl's household. Where Myer-Bennett brings to plate quiet humility and strength, Hamblin is a force of nature ruled only by her impulses.
Jean's charming and elegant mannerism returns in Sheldon's performance. He is loving, charismatic, and refined until he is not anymore and transforms into a ruthless social climber willing to set aside his morals in order to achieve a new status. He is an ambivalent figure: frightening when enraged by Julie's volatility, but frightened of the bell rung twice by the Earl.
Strindberg paints a disconcerting picture of class divide, which clicks into Littler's vision. The individuals are taken over and destroyed by their own ambition, which becomes the core of the unbecoming of their position. The presence of Kristin, albeit having a peripheral role in the play, is key. She is the only one who accepts her post and ends the journey in a fairly respectable stand.
Jean points out her flaws and petty crimes in one last burst of rage when faced with her righteousness, but she remains apparently unscathed by the events while the other two have gradually crumbled in a puddle of malice and rancor.
Photo credit: Robert Workman