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Review: Theatre

Miss Julie

FIERCELY INTENSE: Louise Brealey as Miss Julie and Keith Fleming as John  in a simmering exploration of cross-class lust. Picture: Tim Morozzo
FIERCELY INTENSE: Louise Brealey as Miss Julie and Keith Fleming as John in a simmering exploration of cross-class lust. Picture: Tim Morozzo

Miss Julie

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Everyone knows that it's in the kitchen where parties really start cooking up a storm. So it goes in Miss Julie, August Strindberg's revolutionary nineteenth-century play about the cross-class lust between the daughter of the manor and her father's servant, John, whom Julie grew up beside. Zinnie Harris's version may relocate the action to the post-First World War Scottish Highlands in the midst of a strike among the village workers, but the simmering essence of Strindberg's original is retained in a brief but fiercely intense exchange in Dominic Hill's blistering production.

The schism between the two worlds is delineated from the off via the stark grey interior of Neil Haynes's design that's highlighted even more by the sickly yellow lighting that contains them. This contrasts sharply with the party noises-off and occasional flashing lights beyond. It is not Julie we see first, however, but the maid, Christine.

Played with steely resignation by Jessica Hardwick, Christine is here given more emotional weight by Harris, who makes her a near equal partner in a three-sided battle. Once Louise Brealey's Julie wafts into the kitchen in search of some sense of self-determination beyond privilege, however, Keith Fleming's John takes full advantage of Julie's needy mix of brattishness and brittleness. As the pair spar their way in and out of bed, sometimes with a surprising amount of humour, their fluctuating power games becomes a verbal extension of their unseen physical tryst.

Both Brealey and Fleming give their all with a pair of performances possessed with nuanced light and shade in what is ultimately a play about sex and power, the power of sex and the sexiness of power. In this case, the class of both parties may be crucial to giving their liaison a frisson of forbidden fruit, but, behind closed doors, sex is, or can be, a great leveller too. Judging by the gasps that came from the front stalls on Saturday night, the final, fateful role-play between the pair makes Miss Julie as shocking as it ever was.

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