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Lady Julia

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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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 sexes.

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.

- Honour Bayes


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