Fräulein Julie

After August Strindberg, a version by Katie Mitchell, translated by Maja Zade
Schaubühne Berlin
Barbican Theatre

Tilman Strauss, Luise Wolfram, Jule Bowe Credit: Thomas Aurin
The Setting of Fräulein Julie Credit: Thomas Aurin

If they pay royalties in the afterlife, August Strindberg must be laughing all the way to the celestial bank. Ignoring various Dances of Death, in the last couple of years, his most feted play has appeared as After (English), Mademoiselle (French), Mies (South African) and now Fräulein (Anglo-German) Julie. All that is missing is a pure, period version from anywhere.

Katie Mitchell's vision presented in the German language with subtitles has been imported from the Schaubühne Berlin and is an awfully long way from that.

This director has a number of different schemes that she likes to use on classical plays and this is a classic representation of the deconstructivist style which breaks a work and its movements down before filming them and putting them back together in distilled form.

It has to be said that the continuity is meticulous and the efforts of the actors and their associates on stage are rarely short of perfect.

Such an approach tends to have two possible outcomes. When it doesn't work, one is left watching a dull movie that detracts from the joys of a fine original play. On good days though, for example her adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Waves at the National, by some kind of ethereal magic, the viewer enjoys a multi-layered experience that enhances the work and creates a new way of seeing it.

In this version, what should be a powerful play has, like the protagonist's songbird, been sacrificed to a concept. The problem is that the disconnections, which were once such novelties, have now become hackneyed from excessive use.

The three characters are played by actors who provide faces and other odd body parts but many of their movements and the sound effects are introduced separately and the whole is then compiled minutely but rather attractively on screen.

This sounds clever and is but adds little to a very spare, poetic text that removes much of Strindberg's original plot, to the extent that anyone unfamiliar with the play prior to arrival would not necessarily be much better versed in it on leaving 75 minutes later.

The conclusion therefore is that Fräulein Julie will prove most attractive to open-minded Strindberg veterans who have never previously enjoyed the Katie Mitchell experience.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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