A new translation of Strindberg's Miss Julie by James and Ben Kenward
In The Lamp Light Theatre Company
Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington
In the rough set of an under-stairs kitchen in an Earl's home, his daughter, the Lady Julia (Annabel Topham) makes advances on the valet, John (James Kenward) and they play out a battle of class, sexes and deprived pasts. In an update of Strindberg's classic, James and Ben Kenward try to combine poetry and modern day vernacular in their confusing new translation. In The Lamp Light Theatre Company aim to work without blocking, letting the actors do what feels right in the moment, producing a different show each evening.
Does it work? Simple answer: not on the night I attended. The language leaves the cast straight-jacketed into a series of poorly worded clichés and melodramatic pauses for characters who, in essence, fail to gain our empathy or sympathy. The 'poetic' pieces are over-worked and alienating, while the modern day only inches towards any sense of naturalism, and even then, it's painful. Too many uses of 'The Lady' leaves you feeling you're continually jumping between nineteenth century decades, and the playwrights just couldn't pick one and stick with it. And with an endlessly repetitive pace (with far too many pauses you could drive a bus through) director Gabriella Santinelli misses the mark for this modern day remake.
In amongst this is a featured dance/movement piece where two of the other servants flirt, twist and tangle themselves, reflecting the dangerous love affair that has started between the aforementioned 'Lady' and the valet. At least it provides a welcome relief from the relentlessly plodding pace of Topham and Kenwood's dialogue. Plus, sadly, it has to be said that the two additional actors (Alastair Sims and Lizzie Philips) have more chemistry than the leading actors.
Back to the kitchen and it's only Amy Rhodes, playing the cook Christine, who makes anything of the language and actually manages to realise an authentic character. However Topham does manage to reach something further in her rather mad rantings about trips to Italy, but sadly on the night of attendance this only provoked laughter from the audience. And Kenward's colourful boxers at least brighten up the otherwise dull evening.
Miss Julie is a classic, and an education for any theatre-goer, however Lady Julia is simply an example of a pointless rewrite which is only an education in how not to treat such a fine, original text. I would like to think that the 'different every evening' claim suggests that this production was sparkling on other evenings. However, hindered by such an ill-conceived translation, invariably In The Lamp Light Theatre Company are going to struggle and my doubts prevail.
Reviewer: Sacha Voit