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Director, Anna Rubincam, from  South London Theatre talks about Miss Julie

What’s the theme of your show?

Miss Julie is about power and identity. The themes of class and sex are secondary, but essentially the play is about how in any human relationship, there is always one who holds power over the other, and always one who is dependant on the other. Miss Julie is about how power can shift in a moment, and how to hold onto it, and what it means about a person if they fail.

What’s new or unique about the show?

As this Miss Julie had been produced so often, it was important to try to find truth in what can be a quite melodramatic play. The class conflict between the main characters would have been scandalous in the 19th century, but with a modern audience, we have to find a way to bring them into that world, train them to experience that scandal keenly, but also have themes that are more easily recognised in the 21st century. As a result, the character of Christine, who is usually treated as a rather dowdy third wheel to the main relationship between John and Julie, is

How did the show come into being?

South London Theatre is an amateur theatre company which puts on an average of 20 shows per year. Company members can submit a show they want to direct, and we submitted Miss Julie for the 2018 Season.

Describe one of your rehearsals.

As the relationships between the characters are complex before the action of the play begins, it was important to understand that history. Rehearsals usually being with an improvised exercise, where the actors are given time to imagine how their characters might interact with only movement. It’s useful to establish trust between the actors and help them learn to recognise signals from each other. If they can communicate effectively as characters without speaking, then it helps them once they have actual dialogue. Then we can move into the script and start experimenting. We will run through a section of the play, examining it detail, before ending rehearsal with a full run of what we’ve just worked on.

How has the writer been involved?

Despite being dead for many decades, August Strindberg has been an influence to this production. He was in the midst of divorcing his wife when he wrote Miss Julie, and his contempt for women shows in his characters. We were aware that he intended Miss Julie to be a pathetic creature, a “hysterical woman”, and it was important that we give her truth and compassion in our production. The character of Christine is also often treated as a dowdier foil to Julie, but we wanted to make her more formidable.

How have you experimented?

Strindberg is very cautious with his staging, and we discussed at length whether his reasons were personal or simply a reflection of his time. Through improvisation, we could see how far we could push the physical relationships, whilst still staying true to the rules of the time period. Strindberg also stages several important actions off stage during the play, and we wanted to question that as much as possible.

How do your challenge yourself or yourselves?

The play is difficult because most of us rarely find ourselves in this situation. Its been an interesting process in rehearsal to help the actors find things they can identify with in their characters. That has involved a lot of improvisation, and even doing exercises that their characters don’t do in the play, such as posing for formal photographs in character and learning folk dancing. Creating intimacy has been a challenge, especially when that intimacy has a dark or violent edge. Giving the actors space to explore that side of their craft had been exhilarating but often quite scary for them. As the director, it’s my job to make sure they feel safe, but also to encourage them out of their comfort zone.

What are your favourite shows, and why?

Miss Julie appealed to me because it takes place in a small window of time, but is influenced by everything that happened before we ever meet the characters. The actors have a short time to escalate the action from polite discourse to mayhem and tragedy, and allow to audience to imagine what could have been if things had happened slightly differently. As a result, plays like Edward Albee’s Zoo Story and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are among my favourites. They suggest that if the audience returned the following night, someone might make a slightly different decision, and the play might go a different way.

Show dates, times and booking info: May 15-19, 2018 at 8 pm
The Old Fire Station, 2A Norwood High St, SE27 9NS

Book here

Company web site: http://southlondontheatre.co.uk

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