Miss Julie

Wed 17th – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Helen Catt

at 13:21 on 29th Aug 2011

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I was not as impressed as I hoped to be with Andrew Dallmeyer's production of Miss Julie. I couldn't help but feel that it occasionally ran to melodrama and overacting. Between these moments, however, there were some moments of real emotion, as one would expect from previous Best of the Fest winners, Louise Seyffert and Bart Vanlaere. Jean's story of exclusion from the world he admired, and then bitter disappointment as he discovered what he had been admiring all this time was merely tinsel was particularly well done.

The play concerns the young Miss Julie who is seduced by the footman Jean, and the aftermath. The struggle for power between the aristocrat and the uninhibited, worldly servant is very well-executed. Miss Julie has all the power of status, Jean all the power of being a man in a patriarchal society. The Count – never seen – combines the two, and it is his influence that drives the play to its tragic conclusion.

The emptiness of words of love is brought out subtly – with the contemptuous admission that Jean's suicide for love of Miss Julie was merely a way to seduce her, and the way that when Julie says she would rather her pet bird died than get into the hands of strangers, Jean takes her at her word and kills the bird. In society of the 1880's, literature is full of heroines and heroes swearing to die for love, but it is rare that the futility of such an action is portrayed above the romanticism.

I found the rapid changes in the apparent emotions of the characters' emotions somewhat muddled. One moment, they seemed to be truly in love, with Jean unable to admit it in a house where he couldn't be his love's equal; the next Jean was taunting Miss Julie with his victory. However, as the characters were in a very tumultuous state of mind, this muddle was perhaps appropriate.

Although it did occasionally run to the overly theatrical, overall it was a well-executed, emotional discourse on the society and prejudices of the time. It was a faithful rendition of Strindberg's most well-known play, and although I couldn't help but feel that it didn't especially bring anything new to the table, it was certainly competent and compelling.

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Patrick Sykes

at 08:39 on 30th Aug 2011

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Strindberg’s play of prides follows the fortunes of a love triangle with corners spanning the nineteenth-century Swedish class system. While the plot itself is not particularly interesting, it provides a more compelling space for its characters to struggle against, or succumb to, their social status.

The cast is undoubtedly led by Jean (Bart Vanlaere), the at once proud and aspiring servant. Vanlaere manages to make his thieving, lecherous character strangely endearing through an unashamed, witty performance. He is well supported by Miss Julie herself, played by Louise Seyffert; though in winning the empathy of the audience he somewhat overshadows both her and the focus implied by the title, at the cost of Seyffert’s success. She looks natural in the charismatic, teasing flirtations of her character, and the two work well together to create a tension that is as much social as sexual. However, both have an unfortunate tendency to overact the extremes of their exchanges. When Vanlaere would disproportionately bellow anything approaching a heated word, and I began to find Seyffert’s indecisions increasingly irritating rather than being moved to pity her. She goes on to vent misandry, but is for more compelling when showing glimpses of Julie’s insecurities than her outright neuroses. Both invested too much in the descriptions of their respective recurring dream of climbing trees and falling from trees, which are unhelpfully written to demand crude interpretations.

Christine was a more minor part, but this production made the most of her when it mattered. Her fervent Christian reprimanding of Seyffert and Vanlaere’s behaviour was especially strong, and added a new depth to her otherwise unassuming character. Unfortunately the poor accent she adopts is a persistent distraction, and she sounds forever somewhere between the west country and the west of Ireland.

This afternoon of midsummer night transgressions features some engaging exchanges, but the contest is unavoidably dated and the performances crack under the pressure of some of their most important moments.

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