Theatre Review: Miss Julie (Fairfield Halls)

By - Friday 17th May, 2013

The wreckage from an explosion of class, sex, and history spills from this tense Swedish drama

Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls
Time from East Croydon 
   5 minutes 

Adam Redmayne and Felicity Rhys

Miss Julie sees an aristocratic daughter flaunt her social status over two of her servants one night in 1899. When her teasing leads to sex with the valet, the relationships between the characters – and the rules of society which govern them – are irreparably damaged. UK Touring Theatre has brought to Croydon a smart, moving, and funny take on August Strindberg’s Swedish classic. This new translation shows with visceral force that the structures that so crucify its characters are all too familiar today.

Felicity Rhys is a complex Miss Julie, at first frustratingly (in the good sense) petulant and unassailable, but utterly believable when descending towards collapse. Her chemistry with Adam Redmayne sizzles from the moment they first share the stage. Redmayne himself is an excellent Jean. His veneer of propriety and subservience introduces him as a convincingly weary servant, and as the play turns so does he. I found the resignation with which he moves toward bedding Miss Julie to be a convincing show of arrogance. When I spoke to the cast last week, Redmayne said the play was a battle of the sexes and the classes, and this is certainly the interpretation this production stresses to great success. The act of sexual congress around which it hinges becomes the anvil on which Miss Julie’s power over Jean is broken, and their exchanges throughout the play provoke laughter, pity, and, by the end, anger. Redmayne’s final few moments as Jean are to be particularly commended.

Classics performed to this standard deserve a warm welcome in Croydon

Sioned Jones provides a fantastic Kristen. Perfectly cast, she presents a likeable, ostensibly simple soul whose servile, homely charm belies an intelligent and strong female – a perfect contrast to the apparently refined but weak Miss Julie. Tragically, Strindberg’s text offers only few and brief exchanges between the two women, but Jones and Rhys make the absolute most of them. In particular, Kristen’s reaction to the play’s central revelation is a highlight of the production.

While the cast universally produce good performances, the direction of the piece is not to the same standard. The design, costumes, and set are adequate and the soundscapes – particularly the music of the party and the servants – are well-orchestrated and engaging. Some scenes lack pace, and the staging itself feels, at times, pedestrian. This doesn’t detract from the play as a whole, but some tightening up wouldn’t hurt.

I would recommend sitting close to the stage – the Ashcroft Theatre has a somewhat cavernous feel which is exacerbated by the intimate intensity of the play. Sitting in row Q as I was, the quality of what was on show was clear, but I did come away with a feeling I’d been left out of a potentially more engrossing experience.

The Fairfield Halls would do well to programme more such work – and indeed, more work from UK Touring Theatre. Classics performed to this standard deserve a warm welcome in Croydon. Head to the Ashcroft Theatre tonight or tomorrow at 7:45 for an intense ninety minutes that will stay with you for hours afterward.

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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