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A CurtainUp Review
Strindberg's Miss Julie, which was reviled when it was first published in 1888, is revived at Theatre Royal, Haymarket but with a new translation from Frank McGuinness. McGuinness has not deviated widely from the original translation but somehow in this 90-minute sans interval production things move along with less turgidity than in some of the nineteenth century dramatic offerings from Scandanavia. The producers are obviously hoping that with Christopher Eccleston it may serve as draw for younger audience .
From today's perspective Miss Julie is as much about sexual politics as class. In 1888 the balance of power in society was firmly with men but by placing the man of his story in the lower class and the woman in a higher one, Strindberg created a precariously poised balance of power. The aristocratic Julie's succumbing to Jean sets up the feelings of resentment between the peasants and the uppity house servants and the mistress who is now exposed as no better than she should be. Christopher Eccleston plays Jean, the class envious manservant who lusts after the daughter of his aristocratic employer, Miss Julie (Aisling O'Sullivan). He is all deference -- and envy, aping and deriding the accents and manners of his upper class employer, yet showing his desire to be part of the world he disdains. Aisling O'Sullivan, in a white floaty long dress and with her hair died reddish blonde, reminds one of Nicole Kidman (quite a turnaround from the daffy Irish gal in Cripple of Inishmaan). She starts off spoiled and petulant, changes mercurially after her sexual encounter with Jean. Maxine Peake who plays Jean's fiancée, Kristin, effectively changes from flirtatiousness to offended church going respectability. While the two women were particularly fine, Eccleston was most successful when being nasty. His anger seemed in need of modulation.
The production looks most impressive, from the period costumes to Tom Piper's vast kitchen set with its red cast iron spiral staircase and upper level smoked glass windows emphasizes the Upstairs Downstairs feel. Director Michael Boyd has the actors make effective use of the spacious set, with Eccleston athletically leaping over the furniture.
If Miss Julie lacks the seething Nordic intensity of Ghosts, it is nevertheless worth seeing. I couldn't think of a handsomer environment for it than the Theatre Royal which is one of London's most beautiful theatres
Links to Related CurtainUpReviews
Another Miss Julie
CurtainUp's take on Aisling O'Neill in a very different role, "slippy Helen" in Cripple of Inishmaan
Two plays with a more "cutting edge" McGuinness sensibility: Doll's House and Electra