August Strindberg, adap Kaite O’Reilly
Emlyn Williams Theatre,
September 21-October 9, 2021; 80min, no interval
Can the barriers imposed by class, gender and disability be overcome by the power of love?
This is the question behind this intense, absorbing and ultimately hopeful production of Strindberg's classic drama, adapted by Kaite O'Reilly for Theatr Clwyd, which has established a strong reputation for original, engaging and thoughtful work, and doesn't disappoint.
Missing Julie is set in Wales after the end of the Great War, a period of intense
and far-reaching social change that seems fitting for a portrayal of this sex-and-class comment on social Darwinism. As the pace of social change has become even more pronounced in recent decades, the story retains its relevance.
Julie has all the advantages of class, breeding and privilege, but is trapped in her existence by the social constraints of her class and gender. She is desperate to express her ebullient nature fully – leading her into shocking and compromising situations even though, ultimately, she is reluctant to abandon the trappings of her wealth.
In contrast, John her servant, and disabled, is educated and speaks with a sophistication borne of his master's patronage, not birthright. Can he, despite a brash expression of egalitarianism, overcome this subservient breeding? He has looked longingly at Miss Julie since his youth, but can never imagine himself being accepted by her – until she stoops to meet him and they are consumed by mutual desire. Despite, or because of, this wish fulfilment, the fear of being exposed in their illicitness rears its head and they endure bouts of wishful thinking and recrimination.
In the background, the figure of Christine is the voice of conscience and stability, seeking to maintain the old social order in the face of rapid change. Looming large for all is the return of Julie’s father, and his disapproval.
Will Julie and John be trapped in their shame and despair, their passion vilified by a judgmental society? Or will they escape to a new and better life?
The production is notable for spirited acting by Heledd Gwynn, Catrin Aaron and Tim Pritchett, clearly depicting the power dynamic of class, gender and disability.
This is an intense evening without the levity of humour, but it grips throughout, capturing and holding the audience's attention with ease. It is a thoroughly worthwhile return to live theatre – a reminder of what we have missed in recent months.
Theatr Clwyd is to be thanked for having the ambition to put on this absorbing show: welcome back.