It is a scenario that surely most of us have encountered at least once; the morning after the night before, a drunken indiscretion that seemed a good idea at the time and was undeniably fun but that in the cold light of day brings only exhaustion, displacement and regret.
Written in 1888, Miss Julie brings such a situation sharply into focus. Arguably the most accessible of August Strindberg’s plays, it is a creature of the naturalist movement, the school of theatre that attempted to create illusions of reality through a range of different dramatic mechanisms.
Strindberg himself was eager to push at the boundaries of this and achieve what he called a ‘greater naturalism’. He maintained true naturalism should involve a psychological ‘battle of brains’ where character replaces plot and the possibilities for exploiting human folly and weakness therefore become endless.
Miss Julie concentrates on the complexity of the feelings of Julie and Jean, two people from very different worlds, as they interact in the claustrophobic, dizzy here and now. Ensuing over the course of one very hot Midsummer’s night, the play takes the themes of class, love, lust and the battle of the sexes, and rams them together, experimenting with how the four elements can interact and, ultimately, wreak destruction on their exponents.
Formed two years ago, The Faction Theatre company is young, vibrant and known for its ability to breathe fresh new life into old works; this production is no exception, however the company stays simultaneously true to Strindberg’s naturalist vision and intricate stage direction.
Under the superb direction of Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith the senses are immediately stirred as members of the company create a surreptitious huddle of whispering voyeurs, placed off-stage yet visible to the audience. The effect is staggering, both visually and audibly. The set is sparse, the absence of props paving the way for superb sound effects, also provided by members of the ensemble. Every shuffle, clink and crack is powerfully immediate, heightening the feeling of immediacy and tension.
The three-strong cast does not disappoint. More clever direction ensures a distinct lack of hierarchy between the two protagonists, despite their gaping social differences, and they joust almost as equals. Leonie Hill is marvellous as the overtly sexual and flirtatious young seductress and at times we can almost forgive Cary Crankson’s smooth-talking Jean for his cold, confusing behaviour and attempts to humiliate and disarm her as she descends into her frenzy of vulnerable regret and exposes herself as little more than a lost child. Kate Sawyer provides excellent support as the stoic, long-suffering Kristin.