February 20-March 13
Reviewed for Writebase: https://writebase.co.uk/
What is it with some of these Nordic leading ladies? I hesitate to call them heroines, and besides, the lady here is doing a lot of leading… on. But this is a fascinating adaptation, what you could call an inspired move, from 19th century Sweden and Midsummer Eve to Chinese New Year in 1940s
Hong Kong, mainly because plot and dialogue seem to work so well in the new setting, although I must admit to not being familiar with the original version. At a guess, that must have focused on class, whereas here, it’s as much politics.
And the staging is most enticing, an elaborate kitchen set, which appears to combine Western efficiency with Oriental exoticism. The backdrop is a series of lengthy wooden poles from which dangle Chinese lanterns alongside various herbs etc, and underneath, shelves brimming with jars and containers. Behind is a kind of elongated floral decoration, reminiscent of a dragon from the festival, the drumming and cheering from which can be heard in the background.
After a long, tender scene between John and Christine, enter Miss Julie, spoilt (quite literally) daughter of the Tai-Pan (British Governor) and a do-gooding American mother. She has been brought up by Christine’s mother, and spent most of her childhood in the company of the other two. John is now the chauffeur and engaged to Christine, but does Miss Julie know – or even care, as she sets her cap at him? Indeed, setting everything out so obviously that ultimately, he cannot resist her. The main thing they have in common is that they are manipulative but the tables turn, drastically, going from Mr Nice Guy and imperious mistress to villain and victim.
Sophie Robinson has a tough job on her hands because Miss Julie is really unsympathetic, but gives a first class presentation, a portrait of somebody utterly self-absorbed and capricious. She then gradually wins us over with the pathos of her loneliness and vulnerability as she finds herself in an untenable situation. Camille Mallet de Chauny’s John is as excellent in reverse order, the authenticity of his bitterness and long suppressed anger a contrast to the earlier warmth and charm. And Emma Lau (Christine) is as brilliant, a vital a part of this strange triangle, grounding them all and trying to calm the hothouse atmosphere with her love for the other two, the care she takes of them.
The peaceful opening had her busy making a complicated dinner for John, and concocting a noxious brew for the unfortunate bitch; smoking gun, and perhaps rather heavy symbolism, as is this: Miss Julie’s pet has been slumming it with a local stud. Unfortunately, the conclusion peters out to the extent that there were lengthy moments trying to determine whether it was the ending or the interval.
To me, it felt as if the tragedy was not what befalls or is incurred by Miss Julie, it’s that Christine and John’s chance of making a happy life together is snatched away on no more than a whim. Personally, the play may have been somewhat hit and miss but my companion enjoyed it all, as did the rest of the audience. And quite a remarkable creation from another trio: Amy Ng, Dadiow Lin and Adam Wiltshire: adaptation, direction and set design. One thing is for sure, Storeyhouse is largely onto a winner with its well-named series of Originals.