Directed by up-and-coming young Scottish-based director Shilpa T-Hyland, this version of August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie reveals its contemporary relevance with power and precision.
Amid the literal kitchen sink setting populated by the staff of a 1920’s mill-owning Laird’s estate in Scotland, the General Strike is brewing a mood for class warfare in the air, even as the strikers party while their employer is away. In the kitchen, a grim and sexually heated love triangle brews between prim and obedient servant Christine (Helen Mackay), her cocky erstwhile fiancé the manservant John (Lorn Macdonald), and the Laird’s daughter Julie (Hiftu Quasem).
In this retelling, the latter character is lent the most interesting aspects, driven neither by duty like Christine, nor her own brash sexual desire like John, but a complex blend of psychological problems. Quasem’s performance capably walks the tightrope between Julie’s obvious hurt and confusion at her neglected upbringing, her sense of bred-in, almost unconscious entitlement and power, and the uncertain sexual precociousness that makes her no different from most other youths.
The production lacks something due to the fact that all three actors are more or less the same age, with the perceived solidarity of youth taking longer to draw out the contemporary relevance of those fracture points between them; the complex power divisions created by sex, class and employment status.
However, with confident direction and the gorgeous lighting of Grant Anderson, which bathes Jen McGinley’s set in the fearsome dawn glow of the morning after, these themes – and the very reasons this play is ripe to be staged again – are teased out and made explicit.