The bare bones of a kitchen dress the black box stage at the Hen and
Chickens, and it is only the bare bones of August Strindberg’s Miss
Julie that have survived James and Ben Kenward’s bland translation.
Awkwardly mixing the modern vernacular with an overblown poetic structure, this
version never feels comfortable in its own high-heeled shoes. Director
Gabriella Santinelli’s loose production is empty of any atmosphere or tension,
turning this into nothing more than a tedious and chaotic tiff between the
The action has moved from a Midsummer’s Eve to a New Year’s one and
a Miss has become a Lady as the daughter of the ruling Earl, Julia, dances the
night away with her servants. John, a proud and eloquent footman has caught her
eye and as the night progresses they battle each other in a fiery duet that is
meant to be a struggle of sexuality, class and, above all, power, resulting in
Julia’s tragic suicide.
Annoyingly, of these three themes, the only one that remains in
Lady Julia is possibly the least relevant for a modern
audience: class. Annabel Topham and James Kenward as our two ‘lovers’ bang
on robotically about upper and lower class status and decorum. But they share
no chemistry at all on this empty silent stage, picking and pinching at one
another with all the passion of a pair of chimps. Whilst in some monologues
Topham manages to entwine both the mental and corporeal, Santinelli’s intensely
detailed work on text and improvised take on blocking has trapped her actors in
their heads. This cast seems physically abandoned in the space, lending the
whole evening a wordy and distanced feel.
With no discernable or organic character journey and in the face of
two deeply unlikeable two-dimensional protagonists, Lady
Julia is not only a tedious experience but also a confusing one.
Erratic outbursts of screaming and violence and a random dance/sex sequence
prompt giggles throughout the audience because they are so incongruous; but
after the misplaced laughter dies, this lack of a cohesive story arc makes the
whole evening seem very long.
Miss Julie is an impassioned exploration of the
unbearable frustration implicit within the constraints of sex and class. But
whilst Lady Julia is frustrating too, depressingly it is for
a completely different and much more banal reason.