Directed by Michael Boyd, the story concerns an aristocratic woman 'Miss Julie', and Jean a footman with whom she has a sexual encounter. It is difficult to read the many different motivations of the characters that arise momentarily to the surface throughout the play. Was Jean an ambitious man who dreamt of being a count and who deliberately seduced Miss Julie in the belief that he could use her position and wealth to help him accomplish his wish for better things, or was he the one seduced? Was Miss Julie someone who wished to break down class distinctions, and see the servants as her equal, or did she enjoy the power she thought she had over them, and was her sexual encounter one of her devising? Frankly, the characters are so kaleidoscopic in their emotions and reasoning that one soon lost all interest in them, their intentions and their fate.
Whatever reason led to the sexual encounter, things quickly spiral out of their control from the moment that suspicions are arisen amongst the other servants. 'Miss Julie' decides it is best to leave the country, as it would be too disgraceful for her to stay. Jean suggests that they flee to Italy where they can run a hotel, leave their past behind them and begin a new life. A life in which he is no longer a servant and no longer one of the lower classes. However, instead they argue in the kitchen about where to go and what to do. They change their minds constantly, from 'Miss Julie' leaving by herself to her committing suicide. Jean is supportive one minute and unsupporting the next. It becomes a battle between sex and class distinctions and has a deep psychological angle. Eventually their fate catches up with them with the return of Miss Julie's father.
It says in the program notes that "Miss Julie is a play about class, about the violent mutual incomprehension of men and women; about the terrible power of basic sexual instincts; about the lives enveloped and stifled by the enfolding arms of family and history…. "This may be true, but I found the whole play irritating. Even allowing for the way things were in those days, I still found the story unrealistic. The constantly changing mood swings portrayed in the play just do not happen. Although, to be fair, it does say in the program notes that Strindberg " avoided the symmetrical; mathematically constructed dialogue…".
It is so difficult to comment on the acting when I so dislike a play. Aisling O'Sullivan, who I have enjoyed seeing on stage in a few plays of late, plays 'Miss Julie'. I found the character so frustrating and silly I just wanted to put her out of her misery myself! Christopher Eccleston as 'Jean', is competent considering the dialogue, and Maxine Peake, as 'Kristin', the only believable character, was a lifesaver!
This production has received fair notices from the popular press: BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says, "With Aisling O'Sullivan as the haughty, damaged title character, and Christopher Eccleston as the valet who seduces and destroys her, the piece retains plenty of force and freshness. If it is lacking anywhere, it is in the sexual electricity between them." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Dance of death loses its sting". CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This is an intelligent, notably well-acted production of a fascinatingly unpleasant play. Turn up the heat a couple of notches and it could prove sensational."
I had never seen nor read this play until I saw this production. I can only give my opinions based on what I have seen on stage this evening. I personally find these kind of plays a waste of time. There is so much good new writing that never gets on the West End stage. I don't mind 'so called' classics being on the West End, but please, these kinds of plays should be on the Fringe where a select audience would appreciate it more.
"Miss Julie" is simply not my cup of tea, so I hope I have not offended fans of this 'masterpiece' who may feel I am not qualified to comment on the play.