Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review Miss Julie

A perfectly pitched production of a 19th century playwright's pioneering drama thrills Peter Barker.

Miss Julie
by August Strindberg
Adapted by Howard Brenton
From a literal translation by Agnes Broomé

Danse Macabre

The daughter of a Swedish aristocratic gatescrashes the servants' midsummer eve's party on her father's country estate.

So begins a passionate and emotionally intense version of August Strindberg's one-act naturalist tragedy from 1888 in an adaptation by Howard Brenton.

The production starts with minute attention to detail. Valet Jean played by James Sheldon and Izabella Urbanowicz's cook, also his lover, carrying out their menial duties in a working kitchen.

Director Tom Littler carefully paces the show from this slow start to establish an atmosphere of tension and suppressed sexuality.

After the appearance of the young mistress, there is a skilful change of tone and quickening of pace as the deadly emotional dance between servant Jean and Miss Julie gathers momentum.

This is played out in the intimate surroundings of the Jermyn Street Theatre as the audience follows every move in Howard Brenton's three-hander adaptation of Strindberg's play.

Brenton keeps his adaptation in the 1880s, powerfully reflecting Strindberg's teasing out of class and gender within a tempestuous, short-lived relationship across the class divide with all its power shifts.

Charlotte Hamblin is the capricious coquette, almost a young predator until in a convincing switch we glimpse the vulnerability beneath.

As the employee, James Sheldon is a charismatic, handsome presence,  the couple swinging between antagonism and love. 

As the mistress of the kitchen and Jean's betrothed, Izabella Urbanowicz completes a trio of fine performances.

All of which is complemented, in a 90 minute drama in one location, by Louie Whitemore’s exquisite costumes and detailed set, suitably domestic and workaday in constrast to the emotionally violent scenes. Sound from Max Pappenheim adds to the powerful crescendo.

Miss Julie is an oft-performed play but the playwright, with director Littler and a cast extracting every nuance, refresh this Strindberg classic into a thrilling experience and it's a well-deserved green light.

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