A British stand up comedian, musician and writer living in Nijmegen. See more at stevenmorgan.wales
Miss Julie's inevitable fate never looked so good
Though August Strindberg wrote a great number of classic plays in his time, it's Miss Julie that seems to grace the stage more often than most. The play was a highlight of Strindberg's naturalistic period, vying its minimal cast against each other in a survival of the fittest that represents a time in society when the aristocracy was losing its power as the proletariat began to organise. With such a small cast and in such a dialogue-heavy piece, the emphasis is placed heavily on the performers and the relationships between them.
The story revolves around a fatal Midsummer's Eve collision between the aristocratic Julie and her father's valet, Jean. There is little to distinguish each member of the cast as their near-uniform outfits serve as a visual reminder of the underlying similarities between them all despite the societal circumstances which have divided them. Dominika Zawada captures just the right level of snobbery, flirtatiousness and mania in her portrayal of Julie. Delphine Ural portrays Jean's fiance Kristin with a sophisticated complexity that sidesteps the one-dimensional frumpiness that others have applied to her character. However, it's Rogier Bak's multi-faceted interpretation of Jean that stands out amongst it all, his balance of arrogance and ambition coming through as controlled and measured in a way that's a joy to behold.
The power contrast between the Zawada and Bak is a particular highlight which comes into its own in the play's second half. The tension of sexuality resting of a knife-edge of love and hate fluctuates as intended throughout, but always with a measured control that helps retain the suspense. At first, the playful kink of Jean being commanded to kiss Julie's boot feels almost slapstick in its comical spontaneity. In the post-coital scenes of the latter half, however, the animalistic attraction takes an almost abusive angle, Bak's cold yet measured persona creating an underlying thread of menace which directly affects Zawada. The thinly veiled misogyny which underpins a lot of Strindberg's work has been left mostly unmodified in this interpretation with its era-sensitivity, but despite this, it is clear that the woman is the true victim here. As Julie's inevitable path veers to suicidal despair, Jean reverts to the safety of his designated role as obedient servant.
The production's limited resources don't allow for an intrusion of a group of drunken peasants, but in a directorial twist by the upcoming director Jonathan Geenen, each audience member is given a rose on entry to be thrown on the stage at the point the couple have left to create the effect of a dishevelled room. The soundtrack is left to a sole violinist whose music underpins the first half of the play with simple gipsy melodies and whose occasional vocal refrains create scene divides that prove effective in their simplicity. Other than that, it's left to a minimal array of crudely spray painted furniture and a small selection of props that adorn the stage to create the air of disbelief. Opening the play with the cast assembling the furniture in its right place from a statuistic starting place serves as a great visual metaphor for what is to come. The minimalism of the props gives each item a boldly visual sense-of-purpose, nothing is left there by chance, everything in its right place.
It's a risk taking on profound works such as these, particularly with Hart Decor Theatre being so relatively new, but the result is a resounding success met at its conclusion with a deserved standing ovation. The interplay within is as captivating as it is complex, and more than good enough a reason for the company to revisit this work of Strindberg.