Class Division, Sexual Politics And Doomed Passion In Miss Julie

Tom Bolton
By Tom Bolton Last edited 33 months ago
Class Division, Sexual Politics And Doomed Passion In Miss Julie ★★★☆☆ 3

Adam Alexander and Rebecca Pryne in Miss Julie. Photo by Tessa Hart.

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Bread and Roses pub, run by Battersea and Wandsworth TUC, is an unlikely delight: a Clapham institution and a much-needed counterweight to the shouty, moneyed bars of Clapham High Street. Now it has added a fully operational pub theatre to its many charms, filling a strange fringe theatre gap that stretches from Clapham to Brixton. Hosting new work since 2012, the Bread and Roses Theatre Company has now struck out with its first production.

Miss Julie is a dark and strange play, remarkably provocative for its time. Swedish playwright August Strindberg's transgressive writing tackles the social hypocrisy laid bare by Henrik Ibsen, but with fewer holds barred. Miss Julie, written in 1888, mixes sex, class, and religion in the servants' kitchen of a country house. The title character, here played by Bread and Roses managing director Rebecca Pryle, descends the stairs from the ballroom above, literally and metaphorically, to dance, flirt and eventually sleep with John, the butler (Adam Alexander). It is Midsummer's Eve when the natural order is inverted and, thinking she can play with fire, Miss Julie soon finds herself at odds with her family, society and John's fiancée Christina (Grace Dunne). Meanwhile, no sooner has John slept with Miss Julie than he becomes the one in charge.

The play is partly a social realist retelling of the Bottom and Titania relationship in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and bestiality metaphors abound. It is also an uncompromising warning about the consequences of defying social structure, whether as a servant or as a woman. The Bread and Roses stages the claustrophic three-hander as bare bones theatre — the hum of the pub downstairs filling in as the background ball. Director Tessa Hart uses The Beatles' Blackbird as a repeated motif, adding brooding atmosphere.

However, performances need to settle and the choice of an updated translation, with references to “council houses” and “the tabloids” clumsily inserted, is a weakness. Nevertheless, the availability of writing that is still deeply disturbing after all these years, over a pub in Clapham, is very welcome.

Miss Julie runs at the Bread and Roses Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor Street, SW4 until 26 May. Tickets £10/£8. Londonist saw the production on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 03 May 2015