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REVIEW: MTC’s Miss Julie

4 May 2016

Looking at the MTC’s advertisement and being unfamiliar with Strindberg’s classic, I imagined Miss Julie to be a strong, striking woman, and the plot to be a tale of dark passion. How wrong I was. Miss Julie is instead frustratingly predictable, flittering between a sort of Lydia Bennett and a tedious Ophelia, to make the whole production at times seem like a soap opera, which lacks any real emotion or chemistry.

It is Midsummer’s Eve and Miss Julie (Robin McLeavy), the daughter of an aristocrat, is in a flirty mood choosing the valet Jean (Mark Leonard Winter) as her prey, creating more problems than it’s worth. From this Strindberg instantly creates a play that is both an exploration of gender roles and class distinctions, making it still very relevant today and these themes are honoured successfully in this production.

Yet, apparently director Kip Williams’ method of creating a modern revival is to mangle the script with unnecessary swearing and use an array of camera angles to create a live film of the actors that gives it a 1984 feel. He only half pulls it off. At times, I really appreciated how the cameras were used to draw attention to a particular character’s revelation (particularly as I was sitting in row P) or the overhead shot to show a fresh viewpoint, however more often than not I found myself watching the screen more than the actors themselves, and I didn’t pay to see a movie.

VCE Theatre Studies students will be able to go to town on the use of symbolism throughout the play. In this respect, Williams’ appears to have been mostly faithful to the original script, with the hierarchical symbol of the Count’s boots and the chilling killing of Miss Julie’s bird as an image of her own lack of freedom. However, when Jean smears the blood across his face I couldn’t help but think this made the production seem even more clichéd.

The star of the show is Zahra Newman, who brings the integrity of the maid Kristin perfectly to life despite the shortest time on stage. Yet even this is compromised by the final scene, where she offers unimaginative life advice in an attempt to end the play on a note of hope, when really it is hardly believable and incongruous given everything that has come before it.

All this being said, if you are a full time University of Melbourne student and under 21, you are eligible for the Melbourne Uni Theatre Pass (8 plays for $50), in which case Miss Julie is definitely worth a visit because while Williams’ adaptation is flawed, it is still thought-provoking.

Miss Julie is playing at the Melbourne Theatre Company till 21 May.