Miss Julie

Saturday afternoon saw us enjoying a matinee production of August Strindberg's Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Maxine Peake starred as the titular Miss Julie and she gave a fabulous performance. She was very well supported by the other small number of actors including the valet Jean and his fiancee, and cook, Kristen.

The play takes place in Sweden, 1894. Midsummer night’s celebrations are in full swing but the Count’s daughter, the beautiful and imperious Miss Julie, feels trapped and alone. Downstairs in the servants’ kitchen, handsome and rebellious footman Jean is feeling restless. When they meet a passion is ignited that soon spirals out of control.

Strindberg’s masterpiece caused a scandal when first produced – and has been hugely popular ever since – for its searingly honest portrait of the class system and human sexuality. Miss Julie feels cramped by social mores and expectations and longs to escape her narrow and restricted existence. Her passionate relationship with Jean highlights the differences and the similarities between their lives. They both long for wider experiences and to escape the confines of their lives but they are constrained by society's expectations.

Over the course of the play, Miss Julie and Jean battle for control, which swings back and forth between them until Jean convinces her that the only way to escape her predicament is to commit suicide. She leaves the stage clutching a cut throat razor.

Strindberg's play Miss Julie defined the new naturalist theatre.The play adheres to unflinching realism, in content; in staging, especially the elimination of footlights and makeup; and time - Miss Julie takes place over a single, compressed, and unbroken ninety-minute episode. The drama and the tension build slowly over the course of the production until it reaches its inevitable climax.

Strindberg also demands that the naturalist playwright strive toward a new conception of character. Eschewing the one-dimensional stock figure of the melodrama, the playwright must people his stage with full, lively beings. Characters must not be collections of idiosyncrasies and catch phrases coupled with simple motivations. Instead, the playwright must craft a psychology, a "soul".

All in all a fabulous production of a great play and one which we thoroughly enjoyed. Oh, and we enjoyed a spot of shopping and a wonderful meal in Dimitri's, our favourite Greek restaurant, as well.