Elysium Theatre Company and Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Hexham
Hope Mill Theatre,
18 June 2019-22 June 2019; 1hr 20min, no interval
Aye man, something's got to change... This tense production of the play that shocked 1880s Sweden is here transposed to a grand old manor house in the the north east of England by Durham-based Elysium Theatre Company.
Strindberg's masterpiece of sexual attraction, class and gender differences is set on the one night of the year, Midsummer's Day, when servants don't have to wait on their masters but can enjoy fun and games, music and dance, and a few drinks.
The lord of the manor is away, but valet John (Danny Solomon) still knows his place and what is proper and improper. When Miss Julie (Alice Frankham) from upstairs joins the staff downstairs, he is shocked by her impropriety. But soon her forward attitude and challenge to the tradition of the subservient woman excites him, while she is drawn to his resistant nature and his view that she should know her place and is letting down her class.
Solomon plays the valet as a slightly chilling and brutal class warrior, while Frankham is frivolous and pretty as the young mistress. They jointly descend into disgrace and despair as their desires - his for improvement and a rise up the social scale, hers for freedom from the fetters on women of all ranks –create a toxic atmosphere that can only mean disaster for them both.
The voice of common sense is cook Christine (Lois Mackie). She observes the gradual disgrace of both, having warned John – her fiance – not to play with fire, then seeing the incendiary results. Mackie plays her as stolid and down to earth, a bonny lass with a simple yet the sensible outlook on their lives. If only she'd stayed up to join in the dancing, instead of going to bed early and leaving John to let her down...
Still shocking today, Miss Julie resonates with contemporary issues after 150 years, and director Jake Murray has drawn out the challenges Strindberg described in a pacy production, using students from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts and the Arden School of Theatre for the wild scenes of the servants'
party, and also as the 19th century staff ,greeting theatregoers – a nice touch.
Country music from violinist Elliot Moore, and an atmospheric introduction on the Northumberland pipes as the play opens, add to the atmosphere.
Hope Mill Theatre only seats 89 for this production, so hurry if you plan to go.