I have been fortunate to have seen a number of good productions floating around Sydney at the moment. ‘Miss Julie’, showing at Darlinghurst Theatre, was one of those shows.
This new contemporary version made me think of a cross between a Britney Spears public breakdown, a tragic ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Brynne’s World’. The similarities may seem tenuous but seeing this strong, playful, feisty woman destroyed by her defiance of convention, her desire to live by her own means, her naiveté towards money, her daddy complex and then finally brought down by a man who needs to use her to serve his own ambitions makes me think of a twisted, dark version of all of the above.
Miss Julie is smart and sassy but she wants to defy expectations of class and gender, she wants to control and manipulate then enjoy the hedonistic pleasures like a drug that temporarily makes you forget how much you hate yourself. Most of all, she wants to escape the spiral of self-loathing and the sense of hopelessness of where she came from, who she is and what she may become.
Miss Julie is trapped, quite literally, at the start of the play in a glass box filled with dirt and shrubbery. Her metaphorical microcosm has her flinging the soil in her frenzied dance, perhaps hoping to uproot the pain and find some sort of catharsis. Unsuccessful, she turns to Jean, her father’s servant and suddenly her world is much smaller, her problems are much bigger and her destiny has written itself.
Sved and Box have remained faithful to the play with a few changes- Jean is an older father figure, the language is more contemporary and the rhythm captures this in its phrasing and silences. There is less emphasis on specifics of the 19th Century but the sense of class and status feature heavily. Miss Julie’s backstory is also further fleshed out in this version. I liked it very much.
Box is outstanding. Firstly, her sheer presence on stage fills the room. She’s an intimidating force, physically and vocally. So by adding class and authority to her character, she would have me, like Kristen, slinking out that door and getting away from the storm brewing.
It is great seeing a play that offers such a strong female character as Miss Julie and Kate Box was superb in her portrayal. I have a lot of respect for her as an actress and even after being subjected to last year’s extremely ordinary and underwritten ‘The Business’ at Belvoir, she was by far the standout. Seeing her carry a vehicle that allowed her to show such diversity of skill was engaging.
I thought James Lugton as Jean was also strong in finding the line between servile etiquette and ambitious opportunist. We don’t like him and yet… We see he can be cold and brutal but Sved and Box also paint for us the social reasons for his persona. He has been placed in this emotionless vacuum to survive the futility of ambition. All he needed was a reason to hope and suddenly life drives you to drastic measures when the pot of gold could appear at the end of the rainbow.
It’s a fool’s gold, of course, and both our protagonists must suffer for trying to break social convention. They’ve played with fire and both are consumed by it.
Sophie Gregg as Kristen was a good side player but unlike Lugton and Box, who I feel the play was converted or written with both of them in mind, Gregg doesn’t seem to quite fill the role in the same way as the others. But I can’t complain about what she brought to it and her contrast with Box in status and stature was clear and meaningful and her commitment evident.
You know that glass boxes and I have not always been friends but I didn’t mind this design construct. Michael Hankin and design team created a terrific ambience light, sound, set and costume, demonstrating decadence amongst the very antithesis of social hierarchy in the servants’ kitchen. It was also a clever use of space in using the theatre’s actual balcony to enter and exit through the world of the play, with Miss Julie on display, as if we were all party guests there to view the Queen.
Cristabel Sved has done a very good job in directing this play. I’ve seen many different versions of ‘Miss Julie’ and this one would be one of my favourites. The collaboration has served the play well and there is respect for writer, ideas, actors and creative team.
This was a lovely way to finish off the Darlinghurst theatre season before it moves off to its new home. I hope you got to see this play. I really think you would have been impressed.