This iteration of Strindberg’s Miss Julie is set in 1920’s Scotland during the General Strike. It focuses on three characters and their relationships to each other: John the butler (Lorn Macdonald), Christine the maid (Helen Mackay), and Miss Julie (Hiftu Quasem), the Laird’s daughter. Full of tension and subtle details, the play remains compelling from start to finish.
As the audience members find their way to their seats, Mackay is already in character, hanging up laundry in the life-like kitchen set. In a world full of media that prides itself on its fourth wall breaks, this play respects the presence of that wall, giving the audience the sense that we are getting a genuine glimpse into the lives of the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the play.
The characters also feel very real. They are complex and do not strive to be sympathetic to the audience at all times. Quite on the contrary – Miss Julie and John are fascinating characters precisely because they each have facets of their personality that are unapologetically unlikable. She is immature and spoilt; he is arrogant and lacks compassion. Both characters are selfish in their own ways. Christine is selfish as well, but she presents herself as someone who cares about the greater good, telling John that at least she goes to church.
The actors portray these multifaceted characters brilliantly. Each of them truly seemed to feel what they were saying, which added an extra layer of meaning to the performance as a whole. The story relies heavily on the characters’ feelings, and this performance benefits from three actors who present these with high levels of skill.
As might be expected of a script with such interesting characters, the writing itself is full of all kinds of subtleties. Our first introduction to Miss Julie comes in the form of gossip that John shares with Christine. This is a very clever way of presenting a character to the audience: we are essentially given the same introduction to Miss Julie that the townsfolk would be likely to have as well.
However, I had one major problem with the script. In a play in which every character is driven by their emotions, and in which a lot of attention is given to detail, I was left confused by the end as to why Julie still wanted John. During their arguments, he was condescending, cold, and outright degraded her – and yet, even after she has called him a “cold-blooded monster” to his face, John remains all that Julie seems to care about. I found it difficult to root for a character who welcomed such awful treatment.
At the same time, it is also true that the frustration I felt with Julie and John goes to show how real these characters felt. It was easy to forget that I was sitting in a theatre, not listening in on an argument between a couple somewhere in rural Scotland. Indeed, it would be difficult to call this play anything but clever, and despite my personal grievances with the way Julie responded to John’s treatment of her, the actors delivered a fantastic performance.
PHOTOS: Mihaela Bodlovic