Miss Julie, first published in Stockholm in 1888, was not exactly welcomed by critics of the day. "A heap of ordure"; "one long protracted foulness" and "a filthy bundle of rags which one hardly wishes to touch, even with tongs", were just some of the more hostile comments.
Strindberg's offence, like Ibsen's before him, was an unapologetic frankness about sex and the adversarial nature of sexual relationships to which playwrights after him are directly indebted. Add to this a scrutiny of the class struggle and you begin to see why he caused such a brouhaha.
But nothing dates faster than the shocking, and Miss Julie is, in truth, at times a bit of a bore. In a preface, Strindberg wrote that he had eliminated intervals and that if audiences could listen to a lecture, sermon or parliamentary debate for 90 minutes, they should be able to "endure" a play. Clearly the playwright had little time for the pleasure principle.
Not that the production, directed by Rachel O'Riordan, is without its consolations. The lighting by Peter Mumford, coupled with the design by Kevin Rigdon, is beautiful - reminiscent of a Vermeer interior. The acting too by the cast of three is fitfully impressive, but lacks variety.
Like many a Pinter play, all the action takes place in one room; in this case, a basement kitchen. It's Midsummer's Eve and all are engaged in revelry except for Jean, a servant (Richard Dormer) and his intended, Kristin (Pauline Turner). Enter Miss Julie (Andrea Riseborough), daughter of the laird, who is mad, bad and very dangerous to know.
Riseborough gives the role lots of oomph, as she snaps from crazed coquetry to gelid hauteur, lust to hate. Dormer as the déclassé Jean, hell-bent on making his mark on the world, has fire a-plenty, and there is fine support from Turner.
Patrick Marber, in a recent adaptation, relocated the play to 1940s England. Here, Frank McGuinness opts for rural Northern Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century, a move which brings no new insight but does afford the chance to pep up some of the more heated exchanges.
For all the sturm und drang though, enthusiasm wanes.
- Pete Wood