Miss Julie

August Strindberg, new version by Emily Juniper
Faction Theatre Company
New Diorama Theatre

Miss Julie Credit: Faction Theatre Company

Miss Julie is one of Strindberg's earliest naturalistic tragedies, strongly influenced by the theoretical explorations of his Paris contemporaries like Emile Zola, written before his turn for expressionism.

Despite the nature of its content—a sexually charged love affair doomed to fail—it displaces melodrama for a complex web of problematics, in particular class and gender divisions, searching for full-rounded characters with surgical precision. The explicit content of Miss Julie, the backdrop of the authority figure who never invades the stage but dominates the central conflict—the Count, and his subsequent absence—as well as the concentrated action of the play in only one night make Miss Julie a highly nuanced play packed with symbolism but also an unexpected playfulness.

In their adaptation of the play, Faction Theatre maintain and upgrade this precision, attempting to remove any false theatricality in order to better explore the tension between the three characters: Miss Julia (Leonie Hill), Jean (Cary Crankson) the valet and Kristin (Kate Sawyer), the faithful servant.

The adaptation focuses on embodying the text, with a sparse set—only a table and chair to set the visual tone of the space—and a careful attention to not add anything superfluous to the characters. It's a visceral, physical play, underlined by the company's decision to cut any props and instead use sound and mime to complete the scenes. This allows for the play's intricate relationship to emerge clearly, with a strong sense for dramaturgy and a developed understanding of the play's inner politics. Particularly in the first half, there triangle between Miss Julie, Jean and Kirstin is well played out, turning every situation on its head, marking out unexpected turns and shifts as articulated in Strindberg's script.

Faction Theatre Company is an associate of the New Diorama, and presents an interest in uncovering the universality of classical texts and their contemporary discourses by removing period detail, creating the world of each play through bodies rather than visual specificity. This translates to some extent in Miss Julie, as the code of behaviour of the characters is both timely and modern, drawing parallels between divisions that are still present in contemporary society. Sexuality and lust are present in the production which really brings the text to life and shows the nuanced relationships at stake.

However the lack of the tangible also intrudes in scenes where the lack of tangible materials somewhat appeases the shock factor of the moment. In addition, the sound is a confusing mix of live and recorded, and when the movement isn't timed precisely, feels out of place and an obstruction to the action onstage. Particularly towards the second half of the show, some of the intricacies of the play get lost in the drama, and there's a real sense of uncertainty stemming from the characters. For most of the play however, the power shift between the three is played out fluidly, the actors dominating their characters without falling for any superfluities.

Faction Theatre's Miss Julie is certainly a muscular production, and some of the risk-taking dramaturgical choices—in particular the visual scarcity—provide a solid dramaturgy and a new perspective on the play itself. If Miss Julie still lacks confidence and a clear articulation of an acting style to suit the dramaturgy, this is a company full of possibilities.

Reviewer: Diana Damian