Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – until 22 June 2019
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Taking place on midsummer’s eve, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie shows us a brief, tempestuous affair between the titular character and her father’s valet. This production, by the Durham-based Elysium Theatre Company, keeps things simple and focused on the complex subtext of Strindberg’s work (here in a proficient translation by Michael Meyer).
The power dynamic between the two main characters is the most fascinating aspect of the play, and it is rendered well here by Danny Solomon and Alice Frankham. The sexual chemistry which bubbles subtly but certainly under the surface of their early interactions is especially impressive to watch and makes it easy to see why the play was so controversial upon its premiere in 1888. However, both actors have moments where they run the risk of betraying the naturalism of the play and descending into melodramatic hysterics at times towards the end.
The two are well supported by Lois Mackie as Christine, who makes the most of her short time on stage and wields her knowledge as power when the events of the play thrust it upon her.
When writing Miss Julie, Strindberg strived to encapsulate the three pillars of naturalism on stage, which dictate that the events of a naturalistic play should be realistic, meaningful and simple. Whilst he undoubtedly achieved this, one might question how exciting these qualities are for an audience.
This production is a competent interpretation of a play which was undoubtedly a landmark for European drama. It risks leaning on the historical significance of the text to entertain the audience rather doing so of its own accord, but it digs convincingly into the psychology of the characters and this saves it from being a complete washout.