Writer : Patrick Marber after August Strindberg
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Milton Keynes Theatre hosts Patrick Marber’s adaptation of Strindberg’s 1888 masterpiece Miss Julie this week. The award-winning After Miss Julie changes both the time and the location of the original, the events taking place in an English country house very soon after the famous landslide Labour victory of the 1945 general election. We find ourselves in a below-stairs kitchen of a country house where one John, chauffeur to the Lord of the Manor is beguiled by the Lord’s daughter, the eponymous Julie, when she struts in after the summer ball. The games begin and Julie seems oblivious nay indifferent to the existence of handsome John’s ‘unofficial’ fiancée, the steadfast Christine. But how will it all end??????
The issue of the wide gap between the upper and lower classes is still very much central to this drama but is made all the more powerful because in this adaptation World War 2 has changed life for everyone and people are not going to go back to the status quo of 1939. They want life to be different. Chauffeur John perfectly embodies this sentiment and the effect that war can have upon those in the front line, as is oft mentioned. Richard Flood brings this all out effortlessly as well as the feeling of being stuck in his place wishing still to obey and to be faithful to his master like an old dog. A solid performance.
Helen George, as the predatory Julie, manages to display convincingly a whole range of emotions letting us in on the tormented inner workings of Julie’s mind. She flits between vulnerable, desperate and innocent child to cruel, mocking and controlling diva really well. Seductress George may not always be, but she gives to Julie a dangerous and alluring power which traps John so easily. The fly caught in the web, and yet he is also quite clever even pre-meditating. The tension between them is palpable and at times gripping.
Amy Cudden’s Christine is utterly believable. She represents how many people would have operated before and during the war. She is accepting of her lot and gets on with life, unlike the opposing forces that are John and Julie. In fact, Christine is the antithesis of Julie; straightforward and clear with no fuss and no contradictions. She even appears to cope with John’s betrayal once she has displayed her ire.
The three actors interact excellently, maintaining the pace of the drama and delivering lines sharply but with timing which is spot on. Since the action takes place in one room and there is only the one act this adds to the overall claustrophobic and tense effect. Only subtle light changes demonstrate changes in mood and/or time of day. Background music enhances the feeling.
A thought-provoking piece which has you fixed for the entire time.
Runs until 23 July and on tour | Image: Nobby Clark