by August Strindberg.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 29 September 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm except 21 Sept 7pm; 29 Sept 5pm.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 243 0785.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 September.
This is a small-scale sex-and-class Exocet of a play, which is probably why it’s so often produced (including Patrick Marber’s post-1945 adaptation, this is the 4th I’ve caught this year): the daughter of a count who wants to deny her rank and an aspiring servant in a love-hate clinch. Frédéric Fisbach’s production modernises and abstracts the kitchen setting into rooms walled with sliding perspex panels. The necessary kitchen furniture stands anomalously amid a white minimalist space behind which dancers provide colour with their costumes, but are more like people in a Parisian night-spot than workers on a country estate likely to start rumours about the mistress.
It certainly doesn’t look cheap. But Strindberg’s visceral nastiness becomes the melancholy froideur of the elegant apartments where Juliette Binoche’s art-house film characters often reside. Distance increasingly separates Julie and Jean, while the noisy scene behind them empties into silence. But they seem wary of each other rather than hate-driven.
Julie is a Count’s daughter, Jean a servant with big ideas. Her sexual voracity, twinned with hatred of men, forces them together through such class divide as exists in this setting. Binoche enters like a Greek goddess, in a bright golden dress. Her fall is visually clear, in the change to everyday travelling clothes and in Binoche’s shift from elegant sweep to the lumpy movement and fallen facial expression of someone whose self-image has shattered.
Yet Manchester Royal Exchange’s Miss Julie last May had a close-quarters reality contrasting the distance of this staging, with a detailed late-19th century kitchen, where people had to move round real objects, and where Jean’s fellow-servant Kristin worked herself to sleep.
Here, Bénédicte Cerutti negotiates tactfully Kristin’s change from Saturday night work-dress, looking ready to go clubbing herself, to Sunday morning church clothing, calmly taking control of matters as later scenes are cut-up by blackouts, partly to rearrange the stage (those revellers leave the empty bottles very tidily), partly to create an alienated feel. But the Count’s orders boom amplified in the darkness, reducing the sense of subservience which knock Jean’s aspiration aside – a limitation typical of this production.
Julie: Juliette Binoche.
Jean: Nicolas Bouchard.
Kristin: Bénédicte Cerutti.
Director: Frédéric Fisbach.
Designer/Lighting/Costume: Laurent P Berger.
Costume (Julie/Jean): Alber Elbaz for Lanvin.
Hair/Make-up: Sylvie Cailler.
Artistic collaborator: Raphaëlle Delaunay.