Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Miss Julie - Thursday 3 October


Jane Wing, Hawthorne Theatre Review Team

The Hawthorne Theatre last night brought us a new translation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, presented by The UK Touring Theatre company.

This version was translated by the company themselves by taking the original Swedish text and then rewriting and improvising to make it more accessible to a modern audience. The director was Denis Noonan who says he once played the character of Jean whilst attending East 15 drama school, and has always wanted to revisit it since then.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Miss Julie (played by Felicity Rhys), the Daughter of the Count, is a rebellious ‘rich girl’ who, whilst attending a party for the servants, falls for the Valet, Jean (Adam Redmayne). He is already ‘engaged’ to Kristin (Laura – Kate Gordan) the kitchen maid, although it is questionable whether they ever intend to proceed as far as actually marrying! The threat of impending scandal afterwards then drives the lovers into a frenzy of plotting escape, remorse and never ending emotional twist and turns whilst they grapple with the thought of what the future might hold.

The whole piece takes place in the kitchens with a sparse but effective set consisting of a dresser, sink unit and table. Sound effects from off stage create the atmosphere of the servant’s party continuing outside and side lighting suggests the opening and closing of the kitchen door fairly effectively.

This production had some strengths particularly, I thought, the portrayal of Jean by Adam Redmayne. He was very watchable, natural and interesting with great vocal tone and a gentle northern accent which I found appealing. Kristen was also well played by Laura Kate Gordon. The character herself is not very well rounded, being mainly used as a contrast to the extravagance of Miss Julie and she did well to keep the audience’s sympathies while representing the black and white view of the religious ‘good girl’ with truth. Miss Julie herself is an extremely challenging character to portray. She swings from overbearing self important and flirtatious to angry, desperate and self pitying with alarming speeds. Unfortunately I did not think that Felicity Rhys managed to convince me of much reality in this person and I felt that the over dramatic wailing and flailing we saw held little truth and appeared overly ‘dramatic’. In fact there was a little of the over dramatic in Redmayne too at the end of the play, and I had the feeling that the directing had demanded too much of the actors.

One of the difficulties is the out dated idea of class conflict between master and servant. It is difficult for a modern audience to empathise with characters who talk of killing themselves because of what might be surmised by the servants. Nor indeed could we understand the once strong minded and independent Jean cow towing to his master to the extent that the sound of the bell summoning him brought him to his knees!

I did enjoy watching this performance, but it was definitely flawed and left me with a slight feeling of dissatisfaction at the end. However I do think that the Hawthorne Theatre should be applauded for continually striving to bring such a vast array of differing productions to Welwyn Garden City, and I will certainly look forward to discovering many more and interesting productions as the season progresses.

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