I first reviewed August Strindberg's Miss Julie in 2001when Armstrong Arts brought the 1888 bodice-ripper to the now-dark Spa Pavilion at Felixstowe. At least Michael Armstrong’s surreal version had some oomph in it, even if it was sparsely attended and not theatreworld’s finest hour. Denis Noonan’s revival (for UK Touring Theatre) is just plain tedious.
It’s a three-hander, of course and, with a cast that small, you’d think it would be a pretty simple task to take a classic play, translate it from the author’s native language, and present it credibly. Miss Julie, however, seems fated to suffer lacklustre direction, clumsy translation, and some performances that wouldn't be out of place in an am-dram church hall production.
Apart from anything else, this tale of class division is just so dated. Without the contemporary context of such stable-mates as Yael Farber’s apartheid South Africa-set Mies Julie, it’s pretty much irrelevant except as a museum piece. It lacks the sparkle of Wilde or the intensity of Lawrence – often times it’s like looking into one of those vintage What-The-Butler-Saw machines at the seaside, some froth with added slap-and-tickle, which only takes itself seriously at the dénouement.
Felicity Rhys and Adam Redmayne struggle as Miss Julie and Jean. Rhys seemed to spend much of the time expressing her lust/frustration/anger* (*delete as appropriate) by using her arms to marshal imaginary aircraft around the stage, while Redmayne’s Jean is a bit too soft around the edges to be a credible Oliver Mellors-type. Despite the clumsy table-top rumpy-pumpy, there’s absolutely no sexual chemistry between Julie and Jean and you wonder what exactly the daughter of a Count would have found attractive about this dreary social-climbing footman.
The only saving grace of this production is Sioned Jones’ cook, Kristen. It’s a neatly tailored and naturalistic performance that doesn’t slip into the full-on melodrama of the others at every opportunity.
Sound is also not what one would have wished either. The pre-recorded party noise from the adjacent room is blaring away so loudly that it sounds as if the guests and orchestra are hiding under the kitchen table.
Does Miss Julie have a place in 21st Century theatre? Possibly, with an intelligent translation and pertinent staging. UK Touring Theatre’s outing isn’t it.