August Strindberg, translated by Kenneth McLeish
Rose, Kingston upon Thames
Back in 2006, Rachel Pickup was no doubt cast for her slender beauty as Helen in Peter Steins RSC Troilus and Cressida and again, more recently, in The 39 Steps at the Criterion. But she now makes a bid for theatrical stardom with her grace coupled with versatility, playing the leading roles in both Peter Halls staging of Bedroom Farce and this revival by Stephen Unwin of Strindbergs greatest hit.
These two plays run in repertory until 28th November in the Rose Theatres Behind Closed Doors season, one taking place in three suburban boudoirs, while the Strindberg is set in a below-stairs kitchen backed by a forest of sky-high pine tree-trunks, several pieces of solid wooden furniture downstage to delineate the playing area.
Lucy Briers Christine opens the play with a live cookery demonstration as she prepares an evening meal for Daniel Betts ambitious, cocksure Jean, his lordships obedient steward, who also happens to be betrothed to Christine.
But into this arena steps Miss Julie, not the usual dominatrix with a riding crop and leather boots , but a radiant young aristocrat looking for a bit of midsummer rough with her fathers personal manservant, dressed to kill in a long dress, her embraceable waist emphasised by a decorative, close-hugging corset, her blonde hair piled high.
With a combination of Julies dazzling display of feminine self assurance and Jeans readiness to oblige, the seduction is both powerfully erotic and almost mutual, starting with a snatched kiss and slapped face, followed by nose to nose, thigh to thigh intimacy before the inevitable sexual encounter takes place on Jeans nearby bed.
But once the deed has been done and virginity lost forever, this bold, sexy young woman becomes a terrified teenager reduced to craven submission and to an inevitable course of events, briefly brightening with schoolgirl enthusiasm as she dreams of becoming a famous hostess to Jeans Swiss lakeside hotelier, while offering the luckless Christine a job as their cook and maid-of-all-work.
Jeans cool but savage beheading of Julies pet finch is given full visceral horror on a butchers chopping block, while Christine obediently mops up the blood. But in this version of events we are happily spared the fatal climax with Jeans cut-throat razor, which here takes place offstage. But an exciting switchback of emotions makes Miss Pickups performance in the title role the most compelling I can recall, making it worth crossing London to see this theatre star in the making.
Reviewer: John Thaxter