Review: August Strindberg’s Miss Julie and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, Minerva theatre, Chichester

Rosalie Craig and Shaun Evans in Miss Julie. Photo Manuel Harlan

Rosalie Craig and Shaun Evans in Miss Julie. Photo Manuel Harlan

It’s well-known Black Comedy starts in complete darkness but in the double bill at the Minerva theatre in Chichester, so does August Strindberg‘s Miss Julie. A couple of seconds of pitch black until a match strikes and an oil lamp is lit. The Minerva stage has been transformed to an airy and welcoming kitchen of a 19th century mansion. Despite the oil lamp and other equipment, the set wears its period elements lightly. Squint a little and you could be in a modern – if rustic – house. Contemporary echoes run through the whole of the production, a lot of them due to the new adaptation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. If that weakens the social focus of the story, it brings other pleasures.

The story is preoccupied with class and social mores: the action is set in the kitchen and we are always aware this is working class territory. It’s midsummer’s night, and the mistress of the house starts a cat and mouse sexual game with one of the senior servants. Before the night is out, the power dynamics have shifted several times and in different directions. The strict class structure of 19th century households has no equivalent in 21st century western societies (where social inequality manifests itself in other ways) and the production doesn’t duel on that. The tragedy becomes one of people trapped in their own preconceptions. We have the sense they could escape if they dared to do so. It’s a rich and immediately relatable perspective. Continue reading