August Strindberg’s naturalistic play, Miss Julie, written in 1888, tackles a number of themes sparked by the author’s interest in psychology, including female degeneracy, class and gender conflict, idealisation and degradation, and hypnotism.
Whilst considered a classic of modern theatre, the author’s own misogyny which pervades the work often presents a challenge to a successful production in these more enlightened times so it was with some interest that I turned to Theatr Clywd’s live-streamed reading of Kaite O’Reilly’s new version, introduced by Artistic Director Tamara Harvey, which has been freely adapted from Strindberg’s original to give it a twentieth century twist.
Miss Julie (Sophie Melville), the heiress of a Welsh stately home, finds herself in a world radically changed by The Great War. Robbed of marriage after the carnage in the trenches, she is one of the ‘surplus’ women, facing the possibility of a solitary life. In one night of desperate liberation, it seems that the old hierarchies – so perfectly represented by the cook, Christine (Victoria John) – may finally be over: will Miss Julie dare to break all taboos with her servant, John (Tim Pritchett)?
There were strong performances from the cast and whilst Pritchett’s approach was more read through and perfectly fine for it, John and Melville both injected more physicality with Melville giving an all-round emotional and powerful performance that would not be restrained by the limitations of Zoom.
I must also note the sterling efforts of Julie Roberts and Stevie Burrows for respectively signing and captioning the performance throughout.
As with all read throughs, the emphasis of this review is on the writing however and there was a useful Q&A, hosted by Harvey, with O’Reilly and the cast following the reading.
Whilst many parts of Strindberg’s story arc have been followed closely, there are numerous changes to content with most notably the ending being done differently, so much so that part of the Q&A was spent discussing the potential of a sequel.
O’Reilly is keen to emphasise that whilst interested in retaining the original’s examination of social Darwinism, her focus was on issues more prevalent following The Great War such as egalitarianism, disability, and politics, with the thinking behind her adaptation, written during 2019, linked to commemorations of the suffragette movement as well as the revolutionary upheavals of Russia in 1917 and more closer to home with Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising.
However, in this post-war setting these are issues that have been touched upon in Lawrence’s classic Lady Chatterley’s Lover as well more recently with the televised Downton Abbey, and as such I found this adaptation became a little confused as it tried to sit across these three very different stools.
Based on the discussion afterwards, I wonder whether O’Reilly’s interest is in fact closer to more recent issues around social change including the role of women and disability in modern society, and whether these are better explored without Strindberg. The question perhaps is will she be brave enough to set out on her own journey?
Kaite O’Reilly is a playwright, radio dramatist, writer, and dramaturg who works in disability arts and culture and mainstream culture. Further details https://kaiteoreilly.com/about
Sophie Melville is an actress, known for Canaries (2017), The Missing (2014), and The Pact (2021).
Tim Pritchett is an actor and writer, known for Wonder Woman (2017), Black Mirror (2011), and Hurt by Paradise (2019).
Victoria John is an actress, known for The Wake (2006), Videotapes (2009), and little Britain (2003).
Theatr Clywd is a regional arts centre and producing theatre located near Mold, Flintshire in North Wales. Further details https://www.theatrclwyd.com/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 5th November 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★