The party is in full swing at the start of Shilpa T-Hyland’s new studio production of Strindberg’s cross-class psycho-sexual power play, dragged into 1920s rural Scotland in Zinnie Harris’s vivid version. Below stairs, alas, Helen Mackay’s maid Christine can only hear the good times going on elsewhere as she stomps her martyr-like way through her chores.
When Lorn Macdonald’s flinty fellow servant John bursts in, having effectively gatecrashed a boozy workers’ midsummer do which his young mistress Julie also wafts through, it is with the barricade-hooping zeal of a convert who just found a cause, even as his ambition gets the better of him. The General Strike is on, revolution is in the air and he has a bottle of stolen wine and two women to let down. It is Julie’s similarly tipsy arrival on the scene, however, that really ruffles everybody’s feathers.
Set on the clinically clean kitchen of Jen McGinley’s set and bathed in Grant Anderson’s crisp, biscuit-coloured lighting, T-Hyland’s production is a wilfully young affair, and there is an adolescent, all-elbows awkwardness to John and Julie’s love/hate flirtation before it lurches into a full-blown one-night stand.
The morning after resembles the fallout of a teenage party, with John initially as full of boastful cock-sure swagger as Christine is of wounded disappointment at having to play gooseberry, even as she keeps her dignity intact. Played by Hiftu Quasem with a haughty flourish, Julie’s grand gestures appear brattily immature, her attention-seeking also pointing up how much she’s been traumatised by a seemingly privileged upbringing which has left her emotionally damaged.
All of which gives a fascinating and refreshing angle on a play which ends in failure, both of the supposed brave new dawn the strike was supposed to bring with it, and of the personal consequences of similarly rash actions. With John’s brief glimpse at apparent freedom dashed by Julie’s drastic solution to things, the party is well and truly over for them all.
The Herald, February 20th 2019