August Strindberg, adapted by Zinnie Harris
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Although this play features a man and woman defying social convention and having an affair, this is not a romantic comedy, not a cosy date for lovers on Valentine's Day. Strindberg's play is short, sharp and quite brutal.
Zinnie Harris's text though good is not a radical updating of the play. It is set on a Highland estate in the 1920s, not worlds apart from Strindberg's original setting the estate of a Count in Sweden at the end of the 19th century.
The new setting does work very well, the Scottish class differences being very well portrayed. Julie (Louise Brealey) speaks those well-pronounced Miss Jean Brodie tones while John (Keith Fleming) and Christine (Jessica Hardwick) talk in broader Scottish voices.
As aggressive as the characters get with each other, the three actors do all bring out at least some elements of their characters with which one could empathise. Fleming brings out much of the humour of John. Verbally and physically he clowns around and annoys and amuses the other two.
Although at first quite arrogant, Julie is shown to have her warmer side and certainly opens up as the play goes on making the audience more sympathetic. What perhaps doesn't work so well is the coupling of Julie and John; there doesn't seem to be a great deal of chemistry between them, although that may be intentional. Strindberg's play, as previously stated, is definitely no romance.
Hardwick gives a memorable little speech late on in the play as the unfortunate third player in the triangle, Christine. This does highlight very well some of the class issues of the play, but for the most part Strindberg doesn't give a great deal to Christine.
It is overall, though, a gripping battle between two very different people, portrayed with plenty of energy by Fleming and Brealey. They really bring out the rough and the smooth differences between the two characters.
What dampens the drama slightly is that it just isn't quite as powerful as Mies Julie, from 2012's Fringe, a stunning adaptation of the story. The finale in particular of this production seemed rather weak and it is probably Strindberg's fault for choosing to end the play so abruptly, in what is rather a cop-out.
Not a really a good idea for Valentine's Day, unless you and your partner really like an argument. However if you really hate soppy romcoms and want to hear some harsh words fly onstage, maybe this is something to consider.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin