Strindberg’s 1888 classic battle of the sexes is reset to 1920s Scotland and against a background of social unrest in Zinnie Harris’ new version of Miss Julie.
Harris and director Dominic Hill focus on the sexual politics of the play and tension builds apace in this upstairs/downstairs tale, as troubled mistress of the house Julie and her father’s ambitious steward John, play a tantalising game of sexual cat and mouse that ultimately leads to tragedy.
Atmospheric from the outset, Neil Haynes sparse, bleached out set pulls focus squarely on the actors and the trio of performers do not disappoint. As Julie, the bird-like Louise Brealey swings between petulant assertion of her position as mistress of the house to aching displays of vulnerability: her performance throughout is never anything but utterly compelling. As John, Keith Fleming turns on a knife edge from “sweet lies” to gut wrenchingly cruel “harsh truths” in the blink of an eye and Citizens Theatre actor intern, Jessica Hardwick turns in a strong performance as John’s fiancée Christine, the only person with a handle on the grim reality of the whole situation.
The production cracks along apace and as the balance of power swings between the two, the claustrophobic heat of midsummer pervades the piece and one is in no doubt that there will be no happy ending here. Though neither Julie nor John is ever truly in control, there really is only going to be one winner and it was never going to be the woman, the social as well as sexual politics of the time allow Julie no escape from the consequences of her disastrous actions. Despite nearly one hundred years between the setting of this play and today, the depressing thing is that in some ways nothing has really changed that much for women after all.
Claustrophobic, compelling and a class act throughout.