Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A good performance by Staveley Roundhouse of Patrick Marber’s reworking of Strindberg’s infamous text. This three-hander tells the story of Miss Julie’s drunken night of sexual and class politics with her father’s chauffeur. A taut script, more darkly comic than the original, After Miss Julie uses the plot and naturalism of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, updating it to Britain in 1945.
Marber’s script is carefully constructed. The idea of updating it to the house of a Labour peer on the night of the 1945 landslide Labour election really works for the politics of the play (and is nicely introduced by a radio clip that starts the show), but I am not sure the idea is used to its full potential. In the script’s introduction Marber is careful to state that his script is a reworking or a reinvention, not an adaptation, but I disagree with this. It does not really say anything new – it simply says the same things Strindberg said but in a more modern and less covert way. It is more blatant but it sticks closely to the original script, so feels more like an adaptation in a new context than a reworking with new ideas. As an adaptation is certainly works well, and the script is snappy and comic, with pithy lines such as ‘Men like to keep their women – not their promises.’
Watching the show I was acutely aware that it was the first performance of the run, and I do think it has the potential to improve, as indeed it did even during the course of the play, as the actors got into it more. Each of the actors put on a good performance, but all will be improved by further performance, as this first show had the slightly dragging and disjointed quality of an under rehearsed production. Ben Dowman (John)’s lines rarely stopped sounding like lines, but his intense physicality and controlled stillness portrayed the character well. Kate Vernon conveyed well Christine’s conflict between her personal and professional points of view and will no doubt lose the slight unintentional actor’s stiffness that detracts from the intentional character’s stiffness over the course of the run. Kate Walford as Miss Julie had a compelling presence, and brought life to the performance. Her slight awkwardness at the beginning of the performance was quite soon overcome, and her lines never had the stilted quality of Dowman’s, always sounding like she was thinking them as she said them. The chemistry between Miss Julie and John is patchy, sometimes convincing and sometimes clearly forced, but there are moments when the quality of the actors shines through to make intense viewing. The sequence where John kisses Miss Julie’s shoe had the audience holding its breath, as the eye contact between the two of them took on an intensity that encapsulated the politics of the whole play in a single instant.
I am awarding this production 3 stars, though I believe it has the potential to improve, and the moments in which the superior acting shines through make me feel that it will do so over the course of its run. It is a good performance of an interesting text – if you are interested in Strindberg and Marber then I recommend it.