Review: Miss Julie, Citizens Theatre

(February 2014)


by Emer O’Toole

Dominic Hill’s version of Stridenberg’s 1888 classic battle of the sexes gives Miss Julie a much needed update.

It is a relatively small scale production, giving it the tension it requires. Neil Haynes’ sparse, minimal set keeps the focus on the lives depicted within it. Miss Julie details the short affair between Julie (Louise Brealey), a privileged and uptight Lord’s daughter and her father’s servant, John (Keith Fleming). John’s fiancée, Christine (Jessica Hardwick) is the only character who grasps the hopeless reality of the situation as she says, ‘All I know is that this is the system we have got.’ This results in an alluring game of sexual power which ultimately ends in tragedy.

Known for her role as lab assistant Molly Hooper in BBC’s Sherlock, Louise Brealey’s performance is captivating from start to finish. Willing to defy the social class barrier, Brealey’s Julie possesses a sense of danger, yet vulnerability since she was raised by a physically abusive father and a mother who encouraged her daughter to kill small animals in an attempt to overcome the gender roles in the 1920s. In contrast, Citizens intern Jessica Hardwick’s Christine is sensible and unwilling to cross social conventions. John, the object of their affection turns from displaying decency to brutal malice and aggression towards both Julie and his practical fiancée.

missjuliePortraying universal themes including love, class, power and gender roles, Miss Julie has previously been set in post-apartheid South Africa in Yael Farber’s rewrite (staged as simply Julie.) Now spun out within a backdrop of social conflict at the time of the 1926 General Strike, Hill’s Scottish take on the upstairs-downstairs liaison feels surprisingly relevant. Those who have seen Farber’s version at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago may not appreciate this Scottish take on events but it is these rigid British class values that keep Miss Julie compelling.

Less than ninety minutes long, with the absence of an interval, the play is an intense and intimate affair. The trio often have their backs to the audience, making us feel as if we are intruding on their lives. Brealey herself spoke of the horrifying nature of the play, ‘something putatively domestic suddenly feels like Greek tragedy.’ The production’s brutal and subtle climax in which Julie takes a knife to her throat brings this to the fore. The oppressive midsummer heat permeates the production, adding to the tension as it is inevitable that there will be no happy ending: someone has to win this sexual game of cat and mouse.

Miss Julie climaxes on the concept of sexual politics: battle of the sexes, sexual desire and the extent to which men and women manipulate each other in order to get what they want. Hill has established a reputation for updating classic stories and this one does not disappoint.if (document.currentScript) {