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Miss Julie (Susan Elkin reviews)

Miss Julie by August Strindberg, in a new version by Howard Brenton – World Premiere (Part of The ESCAPE Season). Presented by Jermyn Street Theatre and Theatre by the Lake.

Don’t miss this one. Vibrant, passionate, tragic, beautifully acted and directed, it’s one of the best non-musical productions I’ve seen this year. And it’s interesting to see it only a few weeks after Howard Brenton’s new play about Strindberg – The Blinding Light at the same venue.

Strindberg’s best known tragedy, here in a lively new version by Brenton, explores the dynamic between a male servant with ambition, the sensible cook he’s engaged to and the desperately troubled daughter of the house. And it’s all set in the kitchen of a Swedish aristocratic pile on midsummer night when the sun never sets and the reckless spirit of Saturnalia bites although we’re a very long way from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Charlotte Hamblin is a remarkable Miss Julie, She finds and sustains extraordinary levels of volatility, sexiness and despair, We ache for her predicament as she rocks, twitches, shouts, flirts, weeps and hurls herself hysterically from one side of the stage to the other. At one point James Sheldon’s Jean tells her she’s ill and he’s right. Sheldon is strong as the complex James who never loses sight of his own future and is willing to use others ruthlessly to enhance it. On the other hand he is also human and sometimes humane which Sheldon makes sure that we see. As Kristin, Isabella Urbanowicz, provides a still, mature, moral foil to both the others. She is calm and certain but quite feisty. And Urbanowicz is deeply convincing. And all three actors, defty directed by Tom Littler, work exceptionally well together.

Louie Whitemore’s lovely, homely set is reminiscent of a National Trust below stairs set-up and her costumes are both accurate and attractive. Urbanowicz’s church going outfit, for instance, could start a new fashion. A word of praise too for Max Pappenheim’s sound design. For a long time we can hear the rest of the household revelling in a nearby barn – with folksy dance music. Then as the night wears on he gives us the sound of the birds beginning to sing in the early morning. It’s subtle but very effective.

Co-produced with Theatre by the Lake where it opened at Keswick in the summer, this show is yet another huge feather in Jermyn Steet Theatre’s cap. As artistic director there, Tom Littler is rapidly re-inventing this cutting edge little venue.

First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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