After Miss Julie review at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – ‘psychologically intriguing’
Best known as glamorous lush Trixie in the BBC’s Call the Midwife, Helen George invests Patrick Marber’s complex heroine with a childlike winsomeness. Her Miss Julie seems to be trying on roles, to be uncertain who she is, only falling back on her status as the master’s daughter out of desperation. Despite their flirtatious dance (shown on video) there is little smouldering sexual chemistry between her and her father’s chauffeur, John. Instead, Julie’s wildness is both childishly innocent and deeply disturbed and this compensates surprisingly well. Less passionately engaging than other productions (such as that starring Natalie Dormer at the Young Vic) this is an intriguing study, more violent chess game than tango.
Marber’s swift-paced version of Strindberg’s 1888 naturalistic study of the Darwinian battle between classes is itself a modern classic. Set in 1945, on the night of Labour’s landslide post-war victory, After Miss Julie is a power game, class against masculinity, at a moment when old certainties seem set to change. The costumes suggest a decade later, but Colin Richmond’s kitchen set, with its high windows, sink and range, is full of realistic detail.
Under Anthony Banks’s brisk direction the newly jilted and already suicidal Julie is so desperate for love at any price that Richard Flood’s attractive John is swept up in her psychological whirlwind. Not always knowingly, she manipulates him even as he appears to have the upper – sometimes violent – hand. Daughter of a suicidal father and a mother who dressed her as a boy, Julie’s childhood looms over proceedings and George makes the most of this. Amy Cudden as John’s fiancee Christine brings a welcome strain of down-to-earth common sense to this emotional maelstrom.