Katie Avis-Riordan explains why Islington’s King’s Head Theatre is the perfect place to stage a new adaptation of August Strindberg’s classic, Miss Julie
From the moment the audience have taken their seats, an atmosphere of danger and apprehension lingers in the newly adapted About Miss Julie. Long-bladed knives glisten from the lighting structure in the centre of the singular kitchen room on stage like some gruesomely distorted chandelier, watching over the players from start to finish. For the discerning spectator it is an accurate sign of dark tensions ahead.
Adapted by Jonathan Sidgwick from August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, the play is set in London 1923. The Great War is over, the men have returned from the front and the women have once again returned from the factories to their ‘rightful’ place in the home. Order is restored. The eponymous, upper-class Miss Julie throws a midsummer party whilst her father is away, longing for excitement and fun. As the evening unfolds, however, what started as a night of merriment soon turns into a dark, forbidden journey into passion, lust and power, entangling Miss Julie, John the butler and Christine the maid into a web of betrayal and despair.
Starring Sophie Linfield, Jonathan Sidgwick and Suzanne Shaw, as Miss Julie, John and Christine respectively, the play consists of thrilling, naturalistic performances and exhibits authentic chemistry between the trio throughout. During the play’s opening there are dark, sexual undertones and dangerous flirting between Miss Julie and John, enticing not only each other but the audience too. The stage itself is small, simple, intimate and close, adding to the sense of entrapment and oppression felt by the characters. The one set room in which the entire play takes place also perfectly reflects the limited existence the three protagonists are struggling against.
Social inequality is the recurring theme throughout, not only between the classes, but between genders on stage. Each character is striving against their place on the lower rank of the social order, whether that is in terms of financial or familial social status or simply being a woman, upper or lower class. Significantly, the singular door on the set is bordered in blood red paint, seemingly signifying the jeopardy of transgressing thresholds in a world of fixed social hierarchy.
Plaudits must also be given to the directing, as the audience become inescapably absorbed in the performance, relentlessly forced to turn their heads back and forth between the warring characters like a parody of spectators at a riveting tennis match. Furthermore, the audience is so physically close to the stage that one almost feels complicit in the goings on.
About Miss Julie is ultimately a play about the battle for power in a world where sex, class and status attempt to box people in with neat labels and deny them the possibility of betterment and change. This is a dark, absorbing tale accompanied by captivating acting from the three stars.
Catch the show at the King’s Head Theatre before Saturday, 26 July. 115 Upper Street N1 1QN; 020 7478 0160; kingsheadtheatre.com