After Miss Julie
At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. West. Written by Patrick Marber, after Miss Julie by August Strindberg. Directed by David Ferry. Set and lighting by David Ferry. Costumes by Kendra Terpenning. Sound by Tim Lindsay. Starring: Claire Armstrong, Amy Keating, and Christopher Morris.
Produced by the Red One Theatre Collective. After Miss Julie plays at the Storefront Theatre at 955 Bloor St. W. until November 30.
Swedish playwright, August Strindberg wrote Miss Julie in 1888. It’s a play about class distinction, lust, love, and power. Miss Julie is a young woman who comes from privilege. She has a bit of a wild streak, inherited from her mother. She’s a flirt; sexually curious but a virgin; and bored. She fancy’s Jean the chauffeur to her father. Jean is sort of engaged to Christine, the cook. A triangle of seduction and power forms between the three of them. By the end the world is upside down.
British playwright Patrick Marber updated the story and set it on an estate in the tony English countryside in 1945, the day after the Labour Party came to power and Churchill was defeated. Marber called his creation After Miss Julie and it’s a stunner.
Setting it in England just illuminates the great divide between classes. Of course a rich girl can fall in love with and marry a chauffeur (Hello Downton Abbey), but the resultant family crisis and the emotional cost to everyone is huge. Matters are not that murky in After Miss Julie. There is a certain decorum expected of the master of the house and the children. While Miss Julie is a wild woman and perhaps a bit demanding sexually of her former fiancée, she is humiliated when her fiancée calls it off as a result. Everybody knows her behaviour was not acceptable. And certainly by the people who are the most class conscious of all—the servants. They look at her with contempt and superiority.
John, the chauffeur to Miss Julie’s father, new elected to the government, is both disgusted with her behaviour and attracted to her. He had been in love with her for years, from afar as he grew up on the estate. His family had a long history of service and he was proud of it.
Miss Julie is lonely, desperate for excitement, seductive and demanding of John. She is also attracted to him. He tries to keep a distance but it’s difficult. He uses his unofficial engagement to Christine, the cook, as an excuse. Christine is the strongest, clearest thinking person in the play. She knows her place and likes it there. She knows where John should be and makes sure he knows it too. She has a keen sense of herself and how their world will unfold. She has contempt for Miss Julie because of her behaviour. Christine is not afraid of her. When she discovers John and Miss Julie in bed together, she is sickened but resolved and formidable in how to deal with it. John also comes to realize his path, and firmly guides Miss Julie into finally making her own decision about what to do. Miss Julie might think she has her late mother’s strong will of character, but the reality is different.
After Miss Julie is a play boiling with passion, rough sex, subtle innuendo and psychological manoeuvring. Director David Ferry beautifully serves that emotion beautifully in this muscular, yet nuanced production. Both Christine (Amy Keating) and John (Christopher Morris) are always on the move, tending to their many tasks, dealing with Miss Julie, and preparing for the master’s return from London. They flit across the stage from one chore to another. Miss Julie (Claire Armstrong), on the other hand, sits languidly, still, in a suggestive pose at the servant’s table, smoking. But when the passion erupts the movement is quick, sharp and brutish. Miss Julie likes things rough. John gives it to her. In a stunning bit of business after their night together, John shows his contempt by throwing some coins at her and tweaking his crotch about how easy it was to bed her at last. David Ferry’s production is full of such telling details. A slight quibble….some of the blackouts between scene changes or the passage of time, are a tad too long. For example when Christine goes off stage to John’s room to discover him there with Miss Julie, seemed too long for the situation. Perhaps opening night nerves…easily fixed. It’s important to keep the audience gripped, not distracted by wondering what happened to the character.
He has a terrific cast to work with. As Miss Julie, Claire Armstrong has a smoky voice, the body language of a woman used to getting her way most of the time, but an arresting vulnerability. The performance makes us question whether Julie can love anyone, and so we look at her with a certain compassion.
As John, Christopher Morris plays a man of pretensions and hard-won accomplishment. He has learned about the finer things in life that will not have any place in his real life. He reads thoughtful books to improve himself. He steals the boss’s wine to assume, if only in his imagination, a better place in life. But Morris also shows us a trapped man. He wants the brass ring but will be kept ‘downstairs’ because of his class and station. John’s frustration comes out in brutality like a volcano, angry, gripping, and hot.
And as Christine, Amy Keating is formidable. Her footfall is sharp and hard. She has no time for niceties or subtlety. She smokes hard, works hard and if wronged, gets a hard revenge. This is no sad character. She is a woman who knows exactly who she is and how her life will unfold. She will fight for her man and she will win.
After Miss Julie is a terrific play and this production does it proud.