Dir. Dominic Hill, Citizens Theatre, 6th-15th February
It is perhaps still strange to see a one act play filling up a theatre as big as the Citz- for one thing it means no interval drinks. While crowds never seem to storm out the theatre any more, there are still expectations of what a traditional theatre experience will offer. Length aside, however, Zinnie Harris’ Miss Julie, directed by Dominic Hill far exceeds these on every count.
Updated to 1920s Scotland, Miss Julie tells the story of the power struggle between man and woman, mistress and servant, servant and “servant’s fuck”, against the backdrop of a mill-workers strike. Outsiders in a way to the strikers’ dancing, Miss Julie and her father’s butler, John, see in the dawn from the kitchen- and bedroom.
The set is stark, empty but for the props and furniture specifically required in August Strindberg’s exacting script, a stylish appropriation of this authorial control, both resembling a doll house kitchen’s scarce functionality and leaving room for the characters to fill the space themselves; a challenge which presents no difficulty to any of the three-strong cast. Jessica Hardwick’s Christine attains a charm to underlie her staunchness, saving the character from the realms of being merely a plot prop to counter Julie and John. Portraying John, Keith Fleming is in turn endearing, terrifying, sexual, a bit of a dick- a paragon of Strindbergian mutability of spirit, matched only by Louise Brealey as the formidable and floundering Miss Julie. Most the audience will know her as Sherlock’s Molly, and perhaps that is the reason many will flock to the play- if Molly’s what you’re looking for, disappointment is in store, but to see Brealey act? Well, that she can do.
Recognition must also be given to Stuart Jenkins’ lighting design, which comes into its own over what usually appears at a midsummer dance interlude. In Harris’ version, however, this is a thunderstorm which rages over the stage-space, far beyond the kitchen set, taking advantage of the Citz’ cavernous spaces, and providing some release for the audience’s tension. Which, of course, is only rebuilt throughout the second half, a climb which takes us to the only possible ending.