“Don’t confuse my appetites”
After a momentous political decision, some people celebrate whilst others ponder the uncertainty of their situation. You don’t have to strain too hard to find touches of resonance in the opening scenes of After Miss Julie even if the subject matter is ultimately quite different, the febrile atmosphere of that moment of the beginning of huge political change proving to be recognisable no matter the period.
Patrick Marber’s reimagining of August Strindberg’s tragedy Miss Julie moves the story from Sweden in 1888 to England in 1945, maintaining an environment where the class struggle is real but is on the cusp of great change after Labour’s landslide victory. And in the country house that her father has left for the night, the aristocratic Miss Julie has set her sights on a cheeky pas de deux with her father’s chauffeur John, scandalising the whole household with this transgression of the social order.
Leading the power games yet never quite in full control of them, Call the Midwife’s Helen George takes on the role of Miss Julie with real emotion and elegance. Her Strictly Come Dancing experience comes in useful for a beautifully realised dance sequence where she advances her designs on John but as she stumbles tipsily into the kitchen to where he’s retreated, we see just how brittle and damaged she is, capricious and dangerous and girlish in every sweep of her long limbs.
But not only is John the wrong class, he’s also affianced to Christine, the cook whose territory is being invaded, and as he surrenders to Miss Julie’s sexual games, the war-weary and newly politically aware John tries to cling onto what he knows. The handsome Richard Flood plays out this conflict well, exerting physical power over his mistress to counter the psychological power she wields over him as his boss and Amy Cudden is quietly fearsome as the church-going, no-nonsense Christine.
In the realism of Coin Richmond’s detailed kitchen set, Anthony Banks’ touring production is sure-footed until a late slide towards melodrama. The business with the budgie is poorly executed (no need for any Young Vic-style disclaimers here) and things do become somewhat overwrought rather than genuinely affecting as we reach a dark climax. Still it’s a powerful examination of the intersection of sex and class and power and politics and how little we’ve changed, even whilst seeming to change a lot.