Something of a random double-bill – August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (adapted here by Rebecca Lenkiewicz) and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy have previously been put together here at Chichester and so once again, they’re programmed as an engagement in the Minerva, partly cross-cast in a production by actor-increasingly-turned-director Jamie Glover. Each show has its merits but putting them together didn’t really add anything to the experience for me.
Lenkiewicz’s version is solid rather than inspirational – the play has been adapted so many times now, it feels almost more surprising not to remove it from its original context. And consequently there’s no escaping the more misogynistic edges of the writing without the filter of another time. The glorious Rosalie Craig is excellent though as the titular, brittle aristocrat who can’t resist visits downstairs to bit of rough Jean, her father’s valet who is engaged to a kitchen maid.
I might have liked a bit more obvious chemistry between Craig and Shaun Evans’ Jean, though Emma Handy’s Kristin is powerfully played, but the problem lies more in the play I think. As is, it no longer possesses the power to shock and a production without real sexual charge therefore has little to make it truly commendable. Much more effective in terms of this double bill is the uproarious comedy of Shaffer’s Black Comedy
One would think it’s the type of comedy I don’t like but as with Noises Off, it is so meticulously constructed and genuinely funny that I take great delight in saying I laughed helplessly throughout. The key conceit to the show is that light and dark are reversed so that when a power cut hits the house where the play is set, the stage that was pitch-black is now flooded with light but the action takes place as if the actors were in the dark.
It’s a clumsy way to describe something that is done so very well and Glover really does make sure that the comic beats are hit with great precision by all concerned. Paul Ready’s sculptor is at the heart of the action – entertaining a Colonel whose daughter he wants to marry (a great Jonathan Coy), a potential benefactor, an old flame, his current fiancée, a gin-sizzled neighbour (a superb Marcia Warren), all whilst scrabbling around in the gloom, searching for the light but also for a greater truth about his life.