Miss Julie

James Sheldon and Charlotte Hamblin in Miss Julie at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

There are glaring gaps in my education and one of them was filled in on Monday evening at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Strindberg wrote Miss Julie in 1888 and it must have shocked the phlegmatic Swedes who saw its first performance at the Copenhagen Students’ Union Theatre with Mrs Strindberg playing Miss Julie. The play largely consists of a dialogue between Miss Julie and her father’s valet. They do break off their discussions of privelege, class, emotional development to have sex but otherwise not much happens.

If I’m making it sound dull it emphatically isn’t. It is ninety minutes of highly charged theatre and the Jermyn Street is a perfect venue for such an intimate play. In this production Charlotte Hamelin steals the show as that mixed-up minx, Miss J. She is imperiously upper class as she seduces the valet and then almost insane afterwards. James Sheldon as the valet sometimes struck wrong notes. I wonder if he would have been more convincing if he had adopted and stuck to a regional English accent? Credit must also go to Howard Brenton whose adaptation makes the play as powerful today as it was in 1888. Incidentally it had to be shown in the Student’s Union to overcome the technicality of the censor banning it from a public theatre when he saw the dress rehearsal. The Stage describes the Jermyn Street production as “intense and visceral” – no denying that but I’d just like to add that it is cathartic theatre of the first order. I doubt this film version  is as good, even with pug content.

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