AFTER MISS JULIE
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 19th November, 2019
Aspect Theatre’s follow-up to the excellent Duet for One is this play by Patrick Marber from 2003, which is based on Strindberg’s 1888 drama. The action is transposed to an English country house in 1945, when post-war Britain is heady from the landslide victory of the Labour Party (aka ‘the good old days’!) Rather than join her father in London, Miss Julie stays at home to party with the servants. She has designs in particular on John, her father’s chauffeur, who is loosely engaged to Christine, the cook. The scene is set for a triangular battle of wills.
Katherine Parker-Jones is excellent as the eponymous Julie, giving a complex characterisation. Here is Julie’s fragility and haughtiness, her vulnerability and pain, her self-loathing and her imperiousness – all at the mercy of her baser desires. She is both predator and prey.
As the object of Julie’s attentions, John Lines makes chauffeur John a man torn between duty and desire, between propriety and possibility. He is tantalised by the prospect of a new life in New York, liberated from the rigidity of the class system, all the while despising what Julie represents and yet desiring her as a woman. This pair are messed up, I’m telling you!
By contrast, Lizzie Crow as Christine the plain-speaking cook, knows her mind and her place and has a more pragmatic approach. Crow’s silences speak volumes – it’s a compelling performance – and when she lets rip, it is to take the moral high ground (albeit somewhat hypocritically).
Director Marc Dugmore establishes and maintains an intimately naturalistic feel – a good fit for the snug space at the Attic, and Patrick Marber’s writing touches on the symbolism that is indicative of the material’s Scandinavian origins. The fate of a pet bird, for example, represents the deflowering of Miss Julie.
The long table that dominates Katherine Parker-Jones’s set design represents the class system: it is used properly by the servants, but Julie breaks conventions and sits on it, even serves herself up on it at one point. There is a lot to unpack here, raising the stakes beyond that of a three-handed domestic spat.
It’s a gripping 75 minutes of top-quality drama that asks us to examine that which we perhaps cannot escape or avoid: our place in the class system and our own animalistic nature.
A splendid production that manages to be both classy and sordid at the same time!