by August Strindberg in a new version by David Eldridge from a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 12 May 2012.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm. Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 5 May 4pm.
BSL Signed 11 May.
Post-show Discussion 9 may eve.
Runs 1hr 50min No interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 April.

Centenary marked in style.
Though he could do epic, as his historical dramas show (or would if produced over here), Strindberg hankered after an ‘intimate’ theatre, where plays like The Father and Miss Julie could explode with greatest resonance.

Yet the centenary of the Swedish dramatist’s death sees large English stages presenting his naturalistic studies in sex and, in Miss Julie, class loathing. On Coventry’s Belgrade main-stage director Joe Harmston placed marital combat within an environment relating the play’s conflagration to the house’s environment, while at the Royal Exchange, Sarah Frankcom uses the sizeable playing-area in-the-round to accommodate Maxine Peake’s portrayal.

Which is fine, but wouldn’t work too close-up. The trend is towards younger Julies these days and Peake’s character gives little sense of a daughter, or the precocious sexuality which is the mood of the moment. Close-up, this Julie would seem too experienced to be caught out through the chance to flaunt sexual attraction and desire for sex with a striking-looking servant.

But with a bit more distance and larger scale stage, Peake’s performing personality fills the space. She doesn’t need to break-down in the nervous collapse the character often suffers. Her prettily-patterned seductive midsummer dress is replaced by a heavy, high-necked going-away outfit, in contrast to her new naked vulnerability.

And the Royal Exchange becomes cutting-edge, certainly from some seats, as her father’s valet decapitates Julie’s pet greenfinch on the kitchen bench of designer Max Jones’ impressive environment, with a tiny pool of blood left for her to trace her fingers in as the last illusions disappear.

Carla Henry stars off a modern, sexually aware Kristin, something not immediately akin to her ultimate Calvinism. And Joe Armstrong is very fine as Jean, a glance over his shoulder as he produces a wine bottle and his hurried packing it away when Julie enters showing he’s helped himself to the Count’s cellar to indulge his self-conscious refined taste.

An onstage fiddler and token peasants are distractions, otherwise this is a dynamic account up to the final moment as Julie disappears and Jean climbs the steps, not fulfilling his aspirations, but carrying his master’s boots.

Miss Julie: Maxine Peake.
Jean: Joe Armstrong.
Kristin: Carla Henry.
Fiddler: Liam Gerrard.
Ensemble: Cassandra John-Baptiste. Florence Rose King, Cara Lee, Victoria Pasion, Anna Reilly, Jordana Wilson.

Director: Sarah Frankcom.
Designer: Max Jones.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Steve Brown.
Composer: Olly Fox.
Dialects: Joe Windley.
Fights: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Anna Marsland.

2012-05-03 08:42:30

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