By August Strindberg
In a new version by Howard Brenton.
Jermyn Street Theatre, 16 B Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 63J to
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 90 mins No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7287 2835.
Review: William Russell 29 April.
Two magnificent and provocative plays
Miss Julie in this new version by Howard Brenton was seen at Jermyn Street some 18 months ago with the same players in the leading roles – Charlotte Hamblin as Julie, the spoilt daughter of the house, and James Sheldon as the valet Jean with whom she has a dangerous flirtation on a hot summer night. It was a fine production very well acted, and a four star event then by anybody’s standards. Tom Littler has revived it along Brenton’s version of Creditors, a play Strindberg also wrote in the summer of 1888. It is about the encounter between a woman, Tekla, played by Charlotte Hamblin, her artist husband, Adolf, played by James Sheldon, and her ex husband, Gustaf played by David Sturzacker, in a seaside hotel and the battle that ensues. Once again the performances are remarkable, and Brenton has conjured up the madness of the highly unstable Strindberg in language that is florid and always off kilter. The encounters that take place are stimulating and bizarre, and at times beggar belief. Adolf is an artist who has encouraged his wife Tekla to pursue a career as a writer, which she has done with some success, the result being that somehow he finds his own creative powers have been sapped. He is very much a child man. Gustaf has met him, although he does not reveal who he is, and the two men do bond, but Gustaf has his own ends and the battle royal that ensues with Tekla is undeniably enthralling as clearly someone is not going to survive. The ending does surprise because it is not what one expects.
Brenton has created his version of the play by basing it on a literal translation by the Swedish academic Agnes Broome so the text we get is a reworking of that exercise, an attempt to make it alive rather than something using the text as a springboard for his own thoughts, for what is so often really a new play which simply plays tribute to the original source. He says in the programme that he had a strict rule that all the thoughts, expressions and images must be from the originals and he befan to see the cross-currents, the strategies, Strindberg’s phenomenal dramatic skill and, beneath the skill, the tragic vision. Strindberg was in a highly disturbed state that summer and at times the play seems infused with all his demons. Translators often, as he notes, try to make plays modern and relevant and in so doing choke off the voice of the playwright.
The two plays are performed on different nights, which is possibly just as well, although it is possible to see one after the other one matinee days. Littler has directed Creditors firmly and his cast respond. Hamblin’s Tekla is maternal to her little boy new husband, but equally her own woman, and still tied to Gustav by memories of their shared past. Sheldon makes Gustaf both sympathetic and annoying, a little boy demanding what he does not deserve and blaming others on his own weaknesses, while Sturzacker is magnificently devious, a man seeking revenge on a woman who left him and who cares not who is destroyed in the process. Creditors is a difficult, possibly overblown play, and is the less successful of the two although arguably the more intriguing. Miss Julie is one of those roles pretty well every actress of standing has in her cv. Tekla is not.
Julie: Charlotte Hamblin.
Kristin: Dorothea Myer-Bennett.
Jean: James Sheldon.
Tekla: Charlotte Hamblin.
Adolf: James Sheldon.
Gustaf: David Sturzaker.
Director: Tom Littler.
Designer: Louie Whitemore.
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town.
Sound Designer & Composer: Max Pappenheim.
Costume Supervisor: Claire Nicolas.
Production Photographer ( Creditors): Robert Day.
Production Photographer (Miss Julie): Robert Workman,