Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
On the night of a WW2 victory celebration party at her father’s country house, Miss Julie, the neurotic, unhappy daughter of a rich man, gets drunk and finds it entertaining and stimulating to flirt and challenge John, her father’s young chauffeur, to betray his fiancée, Christine, who is the family’s cook. Her selfish need to exert sexual power over him (as well as over other men) both attracts and repels him. Next morning, she is dismayed and confused by their breach of the servant-master relationship that still defines them in her mind.
Miss Julie is, from the outset, an insufferable character. As the drama develops we’re invited to feel sorry for her, or to admire her for the way she seems ready to step out of her place in the class and gender hierarchies. But her behaviour is also very dangerous to the lives of the powerless servants whom she bullies.
Helen George as Julie and Richard Flood as John bring powerful chemistry to the stage from the outset, with her teasing, challenging seduction, his wariness and intense responses. Their sparring, by turns passionately entwined and aggressively contemptuous, is magnificent. Amy Cudden is strong as Christine, trying to keep her man and protect her plans for their future, suffering but staying in control of herself through all the damage that the situation inflicts upon them.
This is a gripping production, with superlative performances by all three protagonists and an excellent stage set. The powers and weaknesses of both genders, and the suppression of personal freedom by class divisions and the need for society’s respect, are dramatised passionately in this play about cultural mores that could also be called a love story.
(This review is also published by www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre, Essential Surrey online magazine on 1/6/2016)