Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 2 December 2017
Howard Brenton’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie is sharp and observant in which the tension is carefully built up in Tom Littler’s production.
August Strindberg’s play is one that continues to fascinate directors and adaptors with its passionate speeches as well as its focus on class and sex. But given the numerous adaptions and stagings it has had over the years – is it possible in 2017 that it still has the same effect on audiences?
In Tom Littler’s production, it could go either way – particularly in the opening scene. On the one side, the focus on the mundane household chores that Kirstin carries out in the opening scene does nothing to enhance the story. But then, in contrast, the approach changes as it begins to delve into the relationship between Jean and Miss Julie, the production also begins to blossom with tension and passion that is engaging to watch. It is certainly a slow-burner interpretation that gives nothing away until halfway through.
But there is no denying that while the production does begin to pick up the pace as Miss Julie and Jean dance their way around each other, tearing strips off each other’s flaws and outlook of the world, it just feels too heavily reliant on long pauses in which the production virtually comes to a standstill rather than getting to the heart of the story.
Howard Brenton’s adaption is elegant and sharp, really delving into the character’s personalities with plenty of twists along the way that the audience is really never truly sure who to trust or to sympathise with. There is nothing cold or clinical about it – there is plenty of heart and emotion involved with every scene, every conversation between all of the characters that keep the audience’s attention.
This is really enhanced by the raw and confident performances of all of the cast. Charlotte Hamblin as Miss Julie begins childlike and excitable, but soon wonderfully and heart-wrenchingly manages to switch this around to a character who is in fact incredibly vulnerable that is beautifully judged. In contrast, James Sheldon as Jean begins all good intentioned and concerned about his position but transforms to a selfish and at times cold hearted individual that shows how one unintentional event can transform people either for the better or for the worse. Together, the chemistry between both Hamblin and Sheldon is strong and believable, that is showcased to full effect in a number of conversations throughout.
Tom Littler’s production and Howard Brenton’s adaptation both prove that August Strindberg’s play still has the power to pack a punch and hit you in the heart in a subtle way. It just could use a bit more pace about it.
Miss Julie continues to play at the Jermyn Street Theatre until the 2nd December. For more information visit: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/miss-julie/