After Miss Julie

Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: 28 – 30 October 2011
Directed By: Ryan Lane
Produced By: Rebecca Murphy
Rating: ****

After Miss Julie provides a tense, dialogue-driven and enjoyable hour-and-a-half at the Barn this weekend, presenting us with some concentrated, skilled performances. Patrick Marber’s interpretation of August Strindberg’s 1888 play is set in 1945 on the night of the British Labour Party’s landslide victory over Winston Churchill and the Conservatives.

Aristocratic Miss Julie (Ellie McAlpine), we are told, has a habit of being a little reckless. In a perfectly re-created 40’s kitchen, chauffeur to Miss Julie’s father, John (Ziggy Heath), and Christine (Fran Isherwood), the cook and John’s fiancĂ©e, both agree the lady of the house is “barking mad”. The undercurrent of interest from John and the slightly expectant tension from Christine come across tangibly, piquing the audience’s curiosity for what’s to come.

Miss Julie – pretentious, temperamental, high-strung and sexually predatory – enters the scene in search of John, both taunting and tempting him with personal questions and domineering requests. She is both cruel at times yet strangely vulnerable. What began as risky then turns into a toxic situation filled with suppressed childhood memories, class envy, sex, hate and disenchantment. McAlpine shoulders a lot of the audience’s attention with this role, and pulls it off admirably. It cannot be easy to display such a changeable spectrum of emotions and mannerisms in such quick succession, but she, as well as Heath and Isherwood, have complete control over the delivery of their lines and the inner workings of their characters. John’s restless envy and volatile pride can be detected in Heath’s tense delivery, and Christine’s breakdown is a poignant moment for the comparatively rather stoic character.

Although there were some lulls in the forward impetus of the play – mostly due to repetitive exchanges between Miss Julie and John – the performances were fully engaging. The lack of an interval was a very smart move, preventing the audience from feeling the play was too drawn-out, and avoiding having to re-engage them in the second half.

A special mention is very much worth making of the set, costume and sound: all showcased an attention to period detail which suggests Ryan Lane’s direction is careful and precise in its vision, and the technical team capable. The ending leant in a somewhat melodramatic direction and wasn’t as forceful as some of the other moments of the play. By then, though, it wasn’t so much how this story would end, but the story itself that had held our attention. A well-spent evening of engaging and uncluttered theatre.

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