Mademoiselle Julie is a tale of love, longing, need, exploitation and hierarchies that, with the action spanning a single night, sees the eponymous heroine fall from grace. One Midsummer Eve party, a crazed Julie (Juliette Binoche), having just separated from her fiancé, sleeps with her valet Jean (Nicolas Bouchaud) before conspiring to run away with him and start a new life. As their emotions swing from one extreme to the other, and they recall their own pasts and memories, Jean’s fiancé Kristen (Benedicte Cerutti) also becomes involved, while desperately trying to stay on the straight and narrow.
Director Frédéric Fisbach has brought the action into the modern era to emphasise the play’s universal messages, but this affects the central theme of scandal. Sleeping with one’s servant would have been shocking in the nineteenth century, but is rather less so a hundred years later. More problematic is that we witness insufficient variations in mood as the drama runs the full gamut of emotions from agony to ecstasy. This means paradoxically that when we do hear screams of despair, and pleas to die, they feel melodramatic and isolated, because they don’t rise smoothly out of the emotions that have already been revealed.
The set, on the other hand, is superb and establishes an excellent infrastructure for the drama. Julie’s house and garden are separated from the audience by a series of glass panels, signifying layers of secrecy and privacy that are peeled back one by one. As the party guests dance to Frankie Valli, Joy Division and The Cure, they capture the range of emotions that come to the fore at different stages of an evening, and in life more generally.
Notwithstanding the above points, the performances are strong with Bouchaud’s focused and forthright acting contrasting well with Binoche’s more metaphysical style. The latter really brings home Julie’s vulnerable character, while Cerutti provides an excellent portrayal of a more level headed, but increasingly hurt, figure. If your main aim in witnessing this play is to see Juliette Binoche in action, you probably won’t be disappointed.
Until 29 September with start times of 17.00, 19.00 and 19.45 at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London. For tickets (£16-£65) click here.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the Barbican press team.
Photo: Bénédicte Cerutti as Kristin, Juliette Binoche as Julie and Nicolas Bouchaud as Jean, © Christophe Raynaud de Lage.