Not born to bend: Miss Julie at the BT

Stories are woven and undone in this accomplished production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Strindberg’s drama deals headlong with battles, from first to last. These are battles of the classes, of the sexes, of comedy and tragedy, of beliefs, of desires and consequences, of anyone and anything. The play follows, in Naturalistic (with a big ‘N’ and all) detail, the events of the night of Midsummer’s Eve on a Count’s estate in Sweden. The action is keenly focused on Miss Julie (the Count’s daughter played by Sophie Ablett), Jean (the Count’s Valet; Alexander Stutt), and Kirsten (the Cook and Jean’s fiancée; Tanya Lacey-Solymar).

Strindberg calls for Naturalistic rendering. This is built up from the meticulous set that provides the backdrop for the production which does a fine job of catching the cadences of the play’s conflicts and which, for the large part, manages to sustain the audience’s investment in the drama. Essentially a two-hander, the two lead actors do an admirable job tackling lengthy parts. Alexander Stutt charms and disgusts as Jean, as he asserts that he ‘wasn’t born to bend,’ whilst the haughty and mercurial Miss Julie, who wishes to command and be commanded, is given life compellingly by Sophie Ablett. The power shifts of this sexually explosive central relationship are well managed by the pair, conveying a real sense of the uncertainty and desire to ‘escape’ as different opinions, tones, and personae even, are donned and discarded. In the supporting role, Tanya Lacey-Solymar produces the necessarily muted performance of Kristen with skill, offsetting the loquacious passions of the central duo.

There were moments when the action failed to convince, mostly when the performers seemed most consciously to be ‘acting’ – a little too much of the same wobbling lower lip of emotion from Julie; a little too much of the false arrogant smirk from Jean. Additionally, a poorly managed blackout, unfortunately, feels too cumbersome. Although this does, as the programme notes say, ‘indicate the passage of time’, you feel that the result could have been achieved in a less intrusive way.

Yet, overall, the production is directed and delivered sensitively. From the artful speeches and exchanges at the heart, to the offstage sounds which remind us of the wider responsibilities and (key word) consequences of life. At the end of the evening, what remains is the wish to ‘run away, far away,’ and the tragic impossibility of so doing.

**** (4 STARS)

Miss Julie plays at the Burton-Taylor studio until Saturday October 27th, at 7:30pm. Tickets £5.00.

PHOTOS/Namratha Rao