Miss Julie

A taut and moving adaption of the Strindberg classic.
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Robin McLeavy and Mark Leonard Winter in the MTC’s Miss Julie. Photo by Jeff Busby. 

The marvel of Miss Julie is its relatability. This is due in no small part to director Kip Williams’ deft adaptation. But the success of the reworked script lies in his ability to hold intact the substance of its main characters.

Miss Julie and Jean come from differing backgrounds but they share a dangerous combination of confidence and ambition, paired with a complete lack of self-awareness – traits that make empathy difficult and prevents equal partnership in love.

In this respect little has changed in the 120-odd years since the play was written. The battle between Jean and Miss Julie to find fulfilment in ​each other ​resonates with a modern audience.

Robin McLeavy is outstanding in the title role, affecting the persona of spoilt, entitled maiden in the play’s early stages in such a way that makes the unravelling compelling. Mark Leonard Winter brings a temperamental, idealistic Jean and Zahra Newman provides the stable bookends with dignity and wisdom. Whether Mcleavy and Winter ever create something that could be called love onstage is an open ended question, but the selfishness and immaturity of their characters make such an experience unlikely. It isn’t their attempts at love that captivated though, but the love that they ​seek. ​Its a naïve ideal and the recognition of that ideal becomes the means for its fulfilment.

At times, this focus on the vicissitudes of the main characters did overpower other elements of story, such as the class struggle, central to the Strindberg original. The use of profanity felt unnecessary and a few changes such as Jean’s ​description of the first time he saw Miss Julie could have been done without. It seems that Williams’ intent was to draw out the themes of the story he deemed most relevant and from a character point of view. Some of the minor thematic changes in focus and dialogue did jar slightly. Overall the recalibration was effective in creating a contemporary feel to a classic story.

The staging was intriguing and though the multiple points of view projected on a screen above the set did feel disorientating at first, it added a wonderful voyeuristic quality to the viewing experience. The multiple points of view also made for an interesting juxtaposition with the singular points of view of the main characters. When combined with slick camera work that followed Miss Julie and Jean in their momentary escapes from the confines of the house that bound them, the constraints of their situations became almost palpable.

Strong performances, innovative staging and an evocative soundtrack prevented the dramatic tension from dropping at any stage and the deviations from the original, even when they didn’t work, are risks worth taking in dealing with overly hallowed classics. Williams’ production is a taut, absorbing and bold adaptation of Strindberg’s, well worth seeing.

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Miss Julie

By August Strindberg, from a literal translation by Ninna Tersman, adapted by Kip Williams
Director: Kip Williams
Set and Costume Designer: Paul Jackson
Composer and Sound Designer: THE SWEATS
Assistant Director: Jessica Arthur
Assistant Set and Costume Designer: Sophie Fletcher
Dramaturg: Chris Mead
Cast: Robin McLeavy, Mark Leonard Winter and Zahra Newman

Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
16 April – 21 May 2016

Raphael Solarsh
About the Author
Raphael Solarsh is writer from Melbourne whose work has appeared in The Guardian, on Writer’s Bloc and in a collection of short stories titled Outliers: Stories of Searching. When not seeing shows, he writes fiction and tweets at @RS_IndiLit.