Monday, 10 February 2014

Miss Julie

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
Everyone knows that it's in the kitchen where parties really start 
cooking up a storm. So it goes in Miss Julie, August Strindberg's 
revolutionary nineteenth century play about the cross-class lust 
between the eponymous daughter of the manor and her father's servant, 
John, who Julie grew up beside. Zinnie Harris' version may relocate the 
action to the post First World War Scottish Highlands in the midst of a 
strike among the village workers, but the simmering essence of 
Strindberg's original is retained in a brief but fiercely intense 
exchange in Dominic Hill's blistering production.

The schism between the two worlds is delineated from the off via the 
stark grey interior of Neil Haynes' design that's highlighted even more 
by the sickly yellow lighting that contains them. This contrasts 
sharply with the party noises off and occasional flashing lights 
beyond. It is not Julie we see first, however, but the maid, Christine. 
Played with steely resignation by Jessica Hardwick, Christine is here 
given more emotional weight by Harris, who makes her a near equal 
partner in a three-sided battle.

Once Louise Brealey's Julie wafts into the kitchen in search of some 
sense of self-determination beyond privilege, however, Keith Fleming's 
John takes full advantage of Julie's needy mix of  brattishness and 
brittleness. As the pair spar their way in and out of bed,sometimes 
with a surprising amount of humour, their fluctuating power games  
becomes a verbal extension of their unseen physical tryst.

Both Brealey and Fleming give their all with a pair of performances 
possessed with nuanced light and shade in what is ultimately a play 
about sex and power, the power of sex and the sexiness of power. In 
this case, the class of both parties may be crucial to giving their 
liaison a frisson of forbidden fruit, but, behind closed doors, sex is, 
or can be, a great leveller too. Judging by the gasps that came from 
the front stalls on Saturday night, the final, fateful role-play 
between the pair makes Miss  Julie as shocking as it ever was.

The Herald, February 10th 2014

ends

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