Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Theatre review: Miss Julie by No Cut Theatre at The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

The Bike Shed Theatre is giving Exeter residents a chance to enjoy worthwhile productions and occasional cabaret in an intimate setting. Another Tuesday night, another empty house indicates we're still not taking advantage. I'm in danger of repeating myself, but any night spent in the presence of live actors will be more fulfilling than an evening in front of the TV, and at a tenner a ticket, the recession is no excuse.

The Particular Theatre Company have focused on new writing from the south-west region but The Bike Shed is also enjoying adaptations of modern and classic plays, and Miss Julie is a piece of theatre of historical importance, being August Strindberg's best known work of naturalist tragedy that nevertheless incorporates hints of his more innovative expressionist work.

But does a classic of late nineteenth century drama translate not just to the contemporary stage but a contemporary setting? That was the challenge adaptor and director Isabel Evans took on and that is the question the audience were left with. Yes and no is my answer, perhaps befitting the to and fro power struggle between man and woman, working and upper class that is at the heart of this drama. The themes of the original were prescient and key to the next fifty years of European history. Class struggle isn't over and sexual politics is present in all of our lives, but perhaps not in the upstairs downstairs world of Miss Julie.

There are still great houses with butlers and cooks of course, but the dynamic is different to Strindberg's era and the melodrama doesn't consistently speak to a contemporary audience. Which is not to say that the production, put together by a group of Cygnet Theatre graduates, is without merit. Lizzy Drive as Kristin the cook has a good go at portraying an Irish girl of faith and fatalism. Her suffering stimulates more empathy than the less likeable duo at the centre of the drama. Wesley Magee's performance as Jean  is probably the most consistent of the trio, his accent more assured and his presence more convincingly current. Annette Emery as Miss Julie has charisma and she balances the femme fatale with the tragic little girl lost of the title role. Her Potteries accent seems to come and go but that is perhaps intentional, saying something of a daughter of new money trying on the authority of mistress of the house. Her absent father is a dominant presence despite never being seen on stage.

The fuse of love and lust could have led to more physical explosions on stage and however fitting the final scene may have been in Scandinavia the century before last, it doesn't ring true now but I hope this first night performance grows over its short run, and the audience grows with it. I'm sure we'll see some of the cast on the Exeter stage again and wish No Cut Theatre well in its venture.

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