After Miss Julie
by: Michelle Rosenberg - Last updated: 2003-12-08
Patrick Marber's adaptation of August Strindberg's Miss Julie of 1888 is a thrilling tour de force of sexually charged social drama.
The original play recounts the tale of a count's daughter who defies social convention to conquer her father's manservant one midsummer's evening. Marber's adaptation takes us to Britain on the evening of 26 July 1945, just after a landslide election victory for the Labour party. The scene is a labour peer's estate, the drama centring on the descent, in every sense of the word, of Miss Julie down the stairs from the party celebrations to the kitchen below.
This basement area is home to John, the chauffeur with ambitions above his station and his morally upstanding fiancée, Christine, played by a gifted Helen Baxendale.
With its intimate atmosphere, The Donmar Warehouse provides the perfect space for the violent and provocative drama that unfolds.
Kelly Reilly's performance as the socially superior yet childishly vulnerable Miss Julie is staggering in its brilliance. As the play progresses, we see the layers of her brittle red lipstick, silver handbag and scarlet dress literally and metaphorically stripped away to reveal the shocking psychological flaws beneath.
We watch the sexually charged cat and mouse game between Miss Julie and John with baited breath, its audacious steps mirroring those of the carefully executed dances performed on the floor above. Our hearts twist in sympathy as Christine watches from the wings, seemingly helpless as she subordinates her personal feelings in her instinctive feelings of duty to her employer.
The concept of a classless society is dangled before us like the proverbial carrot only to be violently ripped away in the closing scenes. The hunter becomes the hunted; the master becomes the servant. The moral superiority so casually claimed by the upper classes is reflected only in the character and strong backbone of Christine.
Superbly acted, 'After Miss Julie' is an enthralling yet ageless window into British society - for as the curtain closes, we ask ourselves, has anything really changed?
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