There is always a high sense of inquisitiveness when going to watch yet another adaptation of Miss Julie: will this be a typical rendition of Strindberg’s classic or a contemporary and innovative take on a play, which has been done many times throughout the years?
Set in present day and dress, the play opens on John, the Count’s butler (played by Adam Alexander), and Christine, a Cockney kitchen maid (Grace Dunne). Their casual manner and colloquial delivery of lines sets the time frame instantly for the audience, and makes it very clear that we are not in nineteenth century Sweden.
It is Midsummer Night’s Eve and Christine and John are unimpressed that the Count’s daughter, Miss Julie (played by Rebecca Pryle), has been dancing provocatively with members of the serving staff. Preconceptions that Miss Julie may be dishonourable to her class come to fruition when Julie enters the kitchen and confidently attempts to seduce her father’s butler. However, the complex nature of this character begins to unfold and we become lost as to whether Miss Julie genuinely seeks John sexually, or is simply looking to rebel from the young, inexperienced woman that she is depicted as in the tabloids.
As the evening unfolds, and Christine takes to her bed, the gulf between servant and aristocrat diminishes. Sexual tensions escalate between Julie and John yet the usual intense intercourse scene, although artistically re-directed into a passionate movement piece, is lost and becomes somewhat of an anti-climax.
Deep regret for Pryle’s character follows and, although plans to elope are suggested and encouraged by John, she is unable to decide what she truly wants. It is not until John unflinchingly beheads her cherished bird that Julie realises her mistake and the severity of her demise.
Dunne plays the voice of reason throughout and returns at the end to reinstate the severity of a butler taking the virginity of his master’s daughter. We are left with nothing less than the impending doom of what will be next for these characters.
These experienced actors cope well with such substantial roles and it is refreshing to see Alexander portray John as a more vulnerable and indecisive young man. Pryle plays a classic, unpredictable Miss Julie, though slightly out-dated in this modern version of the play. Dunne triumphes in her role as Christine, using the language perfectly to convey an honest and believable young woman torn between her love for John and her strong religious beliefs to do what is right and proper.
The choices Tessa Hart has made are brave and curious; she has chosen to neglect what most directors would have made the highlight of the piece, focussing instead on the intimate details and conversations between the characters. Although this works well, and the story is not lost, I do feel that the impact of some great moments is diluted and missed.
Miss Julie is playing at The Bread and Roses Theatre until 16 May. For more information and tickets, see The Bread and Roses Theatre website. Photo: Tessa Hart