‘Croydon is a place where worlds collide’: Interview with the cast of Miss Julie

By - Friday 10th May, 2013

UK Touring Theatre is bringing a new translation of Miss Julie to the Fairfield Halls this month. Tom Black had a chat with the cast about Strindberg, The Killing, and Croydon

Felicity Rhys as Miss Julie

‘Essentially it’s a drama about a battle of the sexes and the classes.’

The prospect of interviewing three experienced actors was somewhat intimidating. Would I get my words out in the right order? What would they think of my posture? Did I command the room with an actor’s poise? Above all, would they notice that I essentially had only one question: why’s this relevant, then?

Luckily for me, UK Touring Theatre are a disarmingly vibrant bunch. The two co-artistic directors, Felicity Rhys and Adam Redmayne, are charming and friendly. Watching them opposite one another on stage – they will be playing the title role and Jean respectively – is something I’m already looking forward to.  Sioned Jones, playing the part of Kristen, confidently answers my opening question with an authoritative ease. ‘It’s always relevant to look at a classic text,’ she says with a smile.  ’There’s so much that can be learned from good writing.’ The others nod, and Felicity points out the recent upsurge in popularity of period drama. ‘This is a great opportunity to see one unfold in front of you rather than just on your TV,’ she says, before Adam chips in about another genre of mode: ‘It’s Scandinavian, too!’ We laugh, but Adam makes a serious point. ‘You can definitely draw a line from Strindberg directly to Stieg Larsson, The Killing or The Bridge.’

‘This is a brand new translation of the play. It’s as close as possible to the meaning of the original script.’

‘Swedish drama has always had, on some level, a degree of black humour,’ Felicity says. ‘This is a very gripping piece, but has plenty of light relief.’ But what makes this version different? Felicity explains. ‘It’s a translation, not an adaptation.’ UK Touring Theatre has eschewed the popular practice of transposing the play’s events to a different scenario. Patrick Marber found success with After Miss Julie, which placed it on a backdrop of the 1945 Labour landslide. The Riverside Studios currently play host to Mies Julie, a sweaty take on the play’s events that shifts them to modern South Africa. Where Mies Julie changed the social focus of the play to a matter of race, this Miss Julie is true to Strindberg’s original version in its study of the class system. ‘This is a brand new translation of the play,’ Felicity explains, ‘we translated it ourselves alongside a Swedish language adviser who helped us get as close as possible to the meaning of the original script.’

‘As actors,’ Adam offers, ‘we were then able to develop the text and put it into our own words.’ The colloquial language of the servants is something people will notice immediately, Sioned says, before Adam points out that a lot of translations are now about 30 or 40 years old. ‘When it’s written in such dated language, the difference between the aristocratic Miss Julie and the servants’ colloquial speech patterns is harder to see.’ In this new translation, I’m told, the rigid social hierarchy is clear the moment the characters open their mouths – or even before.

Sioned Jones as Kristen

‘It came just as melodrama made way for naturalism – it was literally a turning point in that respect.’

There seems to be a lot of discussion of class in their answers. What does this 1888 work by a Swede have to say about the class system familiar to 2013′s Croydonians? ‘The class system is alive and well nowadays,’ Felicity acknowledges, ‘and there are two archetypes in the play – Adam’s character Jean, who is frustrated with the constraints it places on him, and Sioned’s character Kristen, who is happy with her position in life. Anyone today will be able to recognise both those kinds of people.’

The stripping back of the text to Strindberg’s core meaning and original setting allows these distinctions and characteristics to come to the fore, the cast tell me. ‘It’s set on a background of a great deal of social change,’ Adam says, ‘women’s rights, workers’ rights – all these were really blowing up in the  late 19th century.’ As we look back past our own obvious watershed as a town, those days when fire rose from Reeves Corner, a play about social change, marginalisation, and frustration sounds like just what we need. ‘Essentially,’ Adam continues, ‘it’s a drama about a battle of the sexes and the classes.’

‘Croydon has a great variety of residential and business areas in close proximity – it’s a place where worlds collide. This play is a microcosm of that.’

Sioned, in contrast to her role as a content servant, has a clear idea of how the play is relevant to people today. ‘Politically we’re getting news items about the rich getting tax cuts and the poor being put upon. The growing class divide is making the play more relevant.’ When asked about Croydon, Sioned recounts fond memories of performing in the Warehouse Theatre and is dismayed to learn of its current dormancy. ‘Croydon has a great variety of residential and business areas in close proximity – it’s a place where worlds collide. This play is a microcosm of that.’

‘It’s also on the cusp of two literary ideals,’ adds Felicity. ‘It came just as melodrama made way for naturalism – it was literally a turning point in that respect.’ The play’s naturalistic style allows for the social differences between the characters, rather than technical points relating to performance, to set them apart from one another. Sioned tells me with no small degree of excitement that the naturalism of this kitchen-set play extends to her having to cook on stage with a real AGA. ‘We thought about doing an in-between show for days when we’re doing matinees and evening performances – Kristen’s Kitchen!’

The intelligence and craft of these actors are self-evident. Their creative process has produced a work they’re proud of, engaged with, and clearly equipped to perform. Miss Julie is a timeless play that they’ve embraced and, from the sounds of it, developed into a showcase of archetypes and phenomena that any contemporary Croydonian will recognise. I am certainly looking forward to seeing it on the Croydon stage.

Miss Julie is on at the Ashcroft Theatre in the Fairfield Halls from 16-18 May. Tickets are £10.00 for performances at 7:30pm each night and can be booked here.


Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • http://twitter.com/mrsjelly Ellie Dawes

    Great interview Tom, I’m excited to see this! Really interesting that the group are re-translating the play themselves, a mammoth task, but not changing the setting. The importance of having a good translation can’t be overestimated, I always thought I hated A Doll’s House, turns out I just had a bad translation and when I saw it at the Young Vic last year I realised what a truly awesome play it is.