There’s a sign out the front of this production which explains that a large wooden beam has been suspended above the stage, and, for their safety, audience members should be careful to not walk underneath it. I think patrons need be wary of this beam for far more serious reasons.
August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, directed here by Vladislavs Nastavshevs, is a dense, powerful play concerning class, desire and love, and the struggles between, and within, each of these. It’s a three-hander, concerning the eponymous Miss Julie (Katie Fitchett), the daughter of the count who owns the house where the play is set, and two staff employed below stairs, Jean and Christine (Laurence Breuls and Julie Moore).
It’s basically a love triangle between the playful and haughty Miss Julie, the wilful Jean and the upright and indignant Christine. Jean, who has plenty of swagger about him despite his buttoned-up employee’s suit, has an undefined relationship with Christine. However, Miss Julie finds herself drawn to Jean, and it is how these relations work with and against each other that form the drama. Love is a battlefield, indeed, and these three exhaust themselves, with sweet-talking, straight-talking, deceit, admonishment, and more. Strindberg’s writing is clever, yet so packed with power struggle within power struggle that at times it is quite hard to keep up with the constant one-upmanship.
And that brings us to the beam. It acts as a massive set of scales, on which are precariously balanced the props that will be used during the show. When something is removed, the beam dips, and weight needs to be distributed evenly once again – making us all very aware that what we are watching is a constant shifting of power. It’s perhaps not a subtle piece of staging, and, in fact, is distracting for the audience, and hard work for the actors, who must reach overhead for any desired props, and then rearrange what remains.
The players all do a valiant job, particularly Moore as the feisty Christine. She is the moral compass for the show, and Moore makes sure she keeps the stakes high. Bruels is also fine as Jean. Fitchett is perhaps less successful, but the fault is not her own. Miss Julie is an alien. In the current day, it’s nigh on impossible for an audience to empathise or even sympathise with her moral struggle over her feelings towards someone not of her class, and the affect which acting upon this would have on her reputation. It’s not beyond the faculties of a modern audience, but it falls to the director to make such characters’ convictions something vital and real. In this production, Miss Julie remains an entity just out of reach.
What we are left with is a lot of dynamic and energetic sparring, but it’s a warm up to a title fight that never quite occurs. “Everything is strange”, says our dangerously dainty protagonist. And, unfortunately, in spite of the plank of enlightenment resting high above, that much is true.
Vanilla Productions and B Sharp present
by August Strindberg
Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Season: 5 – 22 June 2008
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can min $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au