Scandi noir is all the rage on TV. Where does this Scandinavian love for all things dark, disturbing and dangerous come from? Geography would seem to be the most plausible explanation. Living in a part of the world where it’s dark for months on end has given the Scandinavians more than their fair share of anxiety, neurosis and existential despair. Edvard Munch’s great painting The Scream (1893) is of course the most widely known expression of this. Less well known but equally fascinating and disturbing are the plays of August Strindberg (1849-1912), who was considered by many to be a misogynist. He was a fan of Friedrich Nietzsche.
The son of a servant who married an aristocratic lady, Strindberg is Sweden’s D H Lawrence. Strindberg’s precursor to Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is his play Miss Julie (1888). The play is clearly autobiographical as it centres around the love affair between the servant Jean and the Count’s daughter Miss Julie. Strindberg is not making this up, he actually lived it. It makes for a fascinating 80 minutes in the theatre and so hats off to director Gavin McAlinden and his team at Theatro Technis for having the ambition and audacity to put on this troubling and controversial classic of modern drama.
We are on a country estate in rural Sweden – it’s Midsummer’s Eve and the whole village is celebrating with lots of music, dancing and alcohol. But this being Sweden it’s not so much a Midsummer Night’s Dream but more a Midsummer Night’s Nightmare. Even on the longest day of the year when the sun shines for 22 hours the Swedes manage to find reasons for doom, despair and disaster. The cause in this case is the behaviour of the spoilt dominatrix Miss Julie (Sarah Collins, who is superb). Despite being the Count’s daughter she insists on dancing with her father’s manservant Jean (Gabriel Puscas, who is excellent) much to the chagrin of Christine (Clarissa Perks, wonderful) the Count’s domestic and Jean’s intended. So we have the eternal triangle and power struggles across barriers of class and gender. The fun and games take place in the kitchen of the Count’s house as Miss Julie goes below stairs to pursue Jean and torment Christine. The latter as her name suggests turns the other cheek as she watches Miss Julie close in on Jean. Like the mouse in Alice in Wonderland she is so tired from working that she falls asleep sitting upright.
Sarah Collins is just right. In her stunning blue frock which reveals her neck and shoulders, her gorgeous long hair and sexy black knee length boots she brings Miss Julie’s sexual allure vividly to life. Her chin-up haughty commands are perfect. Her ‘come on, go away’ teasing of Jean is marvellously done. Ordering him to kiss her boots is a high point. In fact boots feature much in Miss Julie. Although we never see the Count, his black Wellingtons under the kitchen sink remind us that this is his house. The associations between boots, kinky sex, sadism and power are very evident in this play. Jean seems at first to be Pip to Miss Julie’s Estella. But like Pip he is more ambitious than he seems. Tellingly, he chastises Christine for giving him beer, he insists on drinking red wine, stolen of course from his employer. The play revolves around the changing dynamics between the servant and the lady. Now one, now the other takes the initiative. Who has the power in a relationship between a man and a woman? Does class trump gender or does sexuality trump class? These are the questions that Miss Julie explores. I found it fascinating. Part Basic Instinct part Fatal Attraction part Fifty Shades of Grey, Strindberg’s psycho-sexual power-play gives us rare access to some of the most deeply troubling desires of the human heart. It’s not pretty but is it true? That’s for you to decide.
Review by John O’Brien
Set on a balmy midsummer eve, Julie, the daughter of the local aristocrat and recently free from a marriage engagement is feeling wild tonight…!! And Jean, her father’s handsome and dangerous valet, has had his eye on her for sometime.
Directed by Gavin McAlinden
8-23 November 2019