Miss Julie/Black Comedy (Chichester Festival Theatre)

The double bill in the Minerva Theatre prove to be an odd pairing

Rosalie Craig as Miss Julie in Miss Julie
Rosalie Craig as Miss Julie in Miss Julie
© Manuel Harlan

In a nostalgic look at past glories, this season sees the revival of a double bill from the Sixties: Strindberg's hard-hitting exploration of sexual politics and social stratification, coupled with Peter Shaffer's frantic farce.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz's new adaption of Miss Julie, transported to Yorkshire, looks to breathe new life into Strindberg’s text, but while the heady mix of female sexuality and class warfare would have made for a powerful cocktail in the 1880s, the play has lost much of its punch.

Shaun Evans, rather too young to play the valet Jean, has a blunt, Northern manner, which rather put me in mind of Monty Python's four Yorkshiremen – there was certainly little of the predatory menace of the character. Rosalie Craig's Julie doesn't convince either. In the programme, Lenkiewicz writes about the power of female desire but Craig is too mannered, mildy flirtatious rather than driven by any passion.

But while Miss Julie is lacking in dramatic power, Black Comedy sparkles. The central concept of the play, set in a Kensington flat after a fuse is blown, is that the actors play in darkness when it's light, and totally lit when they're in the dark.

Director Jamie Glover expertly choreographs the evening, slickly keeping the farce moving. At the heart of it, Paul Ready‘s sculptor, juggling a complicated love life and forced to move furniture between flats, gets more flustered as his evening unwinds – it’s a nicely judged portrayal of a man losing all control.

What is really impressive is that Shaffer has populated the flat with a host of stereotypes – the mini-skirted deb, the peppery colonel, the rather camp antiques lover – and yet the cast don't resort to caricatures, particularly Shaun Evans' 'artistic' neighbour, who could have ended up sounding like Julian or Sandy from Round the Horne.

Much of the evening is stolen by Marcia Warren's neighbour, getting increasingly drunk on 'bitter lemon' but Rosalie Craig, as the gate-crashing spurned lover, returning from Scandinavia, displays a level of sexuality I wish she'd impart to Miss Julie on her trip up north.

It’s a strange double bill: not so much because of the widely differing subject matter but in the production. While the Strindberg retains little of its menace, Black Comedy is brilliantly funny, scarcely ageing over the past 50 years.