When a classic text is translated into a different time and place, the results can often feel contrived. Sometimes one comes along that feels as vital as it does timely, and Amy Ng’s new version of Miss Julie is a perfect example of this.
Her decision to shift the play from a Swedish midsummer to the Lunar New Year in 1948 Hong Kong works incredibly well. Recent political unease both in Hong Kong and in Britain makes this an apt time to explore Strindberg’s themes from another angle.
Julie here is the daughter of a Tai-Pan, a figure who represents an outmoded and unwelcome colonial hierarchy. Sophie Robinson plays her with a finely balanced mixture of brittle selfishness and mental frailty. Camille Mallet de Chauny plays John, the Tai-Pan’s valet, treading a precarious tightrope between polite forbearance and self-preservation.
Emma Lau’s Christine is a revelation. She gives the character a tremendous dignity and a real sense of purpose and power, aided by Ng’s adaptation and Dadiow Lin’s exquisite direction. She is prepared to make huge sacrifices for Julie, but in the end her strength prevails in the gentlest of ways.
Played out on Adam Wiltshire’s extraordinarily detailed set, with its sunken kitchen, and accompanied by an evocative soundtrack by Nicola Chang, time seems almost suspended. It’s a tremendous production, balancing beauty and brutality, and bringing fresh poignancy to Strindberg’s masterpiece.