When you read an effusive review in independent media of an independent theatre production, there’s a moment, just before you click ‘confirm’ on buying tickets that you think ‘hmm. Is the reviewer sleeping with the director? Does the reviewer want to sleep with the lead actor?’
The reviews for Miss Julie (After Strindberg), currently playing at the Goodwood Theatre and Studio (buy tickets here. No, seriously BUY TICKETS HERE) have been that effusive. I have no idea if any forbidden fruit is being eaten, (we will come back to that), but – having seen the production today – I can say that those reviews (see also here, here and here) were absolutely fair, and that this is one of those rare ‘must-see’ productions. If you live in Adelaide, well, buy tickets here.
The theatre company Famous Last Words have taken a ‘classic’ and given it a skilful once-or-twice over update to Stringberg’s 1888 play, without going overboard. It’s a classic forbidden fruit tale poor little rich girl, (traumatised and in need of love, or at very least attention), her poor “bezzie” and the bezzie’s boyfriend, ambitious and thinking with more than one bit of his anatomy about a shortcut to the wealth he craves. Think Ira Levin’s “A Kiss Before Dying” with less murder to a Hall and Oates (Rich Girl) soundtrack, but with a lot more class and verve.
It’s a three-hander, with Julie (Kate Owens) and her bezzie Kristine (Emilia Williams) first seen in a wordless but telling scene in a nightclub taking selfies etc. They come back to Julie’s (mansion) and it’s soon clear where the power, money and neediness are. Then Kristine’s boyfriend Jean (Christian Bartlett), turns up.. He is a factotum for Julie’s plutocrat and absent-in-almost-every-way father (in Strinberg’s play he was a count. Here he is a sensibly undefined member of the corporate ‘nomadic’ elite).
In any three-hander, if there’s a weak link, or a chemistry that doesn’t work, the whole thing will go tits up very very quickly. This production of Miss Julie – as you’ll have gathered already – does not go tits up. In a gruelling (in a good way) 75 minutes, no intermission, in the round, the actors hit their marks and their notes with consummate skill. You just simply believe that it’s alcohol in those shot glasses, it’s a (quiet!) bird in that cage (fwiw, they could have dropped the Strindberg birdcate, imho), and a returning patriarch on the other end of that phone, who will soon sit in that menacing empty chair…
At the performance we went to there was a Q&A afterwards, with the cast, director (James Watson) and stage manager. Their thoughtful and generous answers gave those in attendance a glimpse of how much grit and talent has gone into making the production a reality. The director and cast were scrupulous in giving shout outs to the absent set designer (Ruby Jenkins) and sound designer (Reggie Parker These sorts of jobs often don’t, if they’re done well, get noticed by most folks attending, but if you do them badly, it makes everyone’s life more difficult.)
I may have said it several times before, but it bears repeating; if you like theatre, get yourself along to this. Buy tickets here. If you don’t like theatre well probably haven’t read this far, but if you have, and you know people in Adelaide who aren’t philistines like you are, then please forward this along to ‘em.
Famous Last Words mentioned two more productions later this year (July and October, iirc). I can’t imagine they’ll be better than Miss Julie, but nor can I imagine the quality will be any less stratospheric.
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