After Miss Julie (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 4th June 2016)
After Miss Julie is a highly charged psychological drama written in 1995 by Patrick Marber. The title is accurate in at least two senses: Marber’s play is a twentieth century version of August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie; and he moves the setting to 1945, when society in Britain and Europe was again in a state of flux. The three characters in “After Miss Julie” are, like those in Strindberg’s play, still trapped in the class system that limits them as it gives them identity. But now the chains that bind society are beginning to break down, under the pressure of two world wars, women’s suffrage and a newly elected socialist government in Britain.
Miss Julie is, from the outset, an insufferable character. As the drama develops we’re invited to feel sorry for her, or to admire her for the way she seems ready to step out of her place in the class and gender hierarchies. But her behaviour is also very dangerous to the lives of the powerless servants whom she bullies.
Helen George as Julie and Richard Flood as John bring powerful chemistry to the stage from the outset, with her teasing, challenging seduction, his wariness and intense responses. Their sparring, by turns passionately entwined and aggressively contemptuous, is magnificent. Amy Cudden is strong as Christine, trying to keep her man and protect her plans for their future, suffering but staying in control of herself through all the damage that the situation inflicts upon them.
This is a gripping production, with superlative performances by all three protagonists and an excellent stage set. The powers and weaknesses of both genders, and the suppression of personal freedom by class divisions and the need for society’s respect, are dramatised passionately in this play about cultural mores that could also be called a love story.
(This review is also published by www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre, Essential Surrey online magazine on 1/6/2016)