Miss Julie is not a play you come across everyday. The raw characters, unbridled emotions and toxic themes are confronting, tantalising and brilliant. Written by Swedish playwright August Strindberg in 1888, Miss Julie was originally rejected by publishers, banned from Denmark theatres and snubbed by critics. It wasn’t until 1896 that audiences were able to succumb to Strindberg’s unique portrayal of social boundaries, sexual desires and visceral human emotions.
Simon Stone, a renowned writer for having the guts to rework classics of modern theatre like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Death Of A Salesman, has adapted this year’s performance of Miss Julie. Set in modern day Australia, Stone repositions the characters for this landscape – Julie (Taylor Ferguson) is the daughter of a wealthy politico, Jean (Brendan Cowell) is his right-hand man and bodyguard, and Christine (Blazey Best) is Jean’s fiancée.
The play opens with Christine cooking in a stone cold, stark white kitchen; a deliberate move by set designer Robert Cousins to portray the coldness and distance of relationships beyond the stage. As the daughter of an absent and unloving father, Julie is a confused and torn teen, who uses her virginity and unashamed sexual frivolity to win the attention of Jean, her temporary knight in shining armour. Although a stoic character, Jean’s sense of duty is blinded by the flattery he feels from Julie’s advances – a tangible jab at class disparity by Strindberg. Losing sight of the bigger picture, and desperate to disappear from each of their despondent lives, sees Julie and Jean hauled up in a seedy motel room where the excitement of forbidden sexual desires finally gives in to the question of ‘what the hell are we going to do now?’
Brilliantly directed by Leticia Cáceres, Miss Julie is a play that will shock, entertain and stay with you long after the final applause. If not for the vivid and discomforting themes, the performances of Ferguson and Cowell are definitely worth a trip to the theatre. Cowell’s hunky persona pitted with comical one-liners is hilarious and intriguing to watch, while Ferguson’s unashamed innocence and fiery attitude is amusing and provoking.
BY HAYLIE PRETORIUS