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Mr Monkey sees Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange Theatre, 16th April

Mr Monkey looking at the Miss Julie poster outside the theatre Jean (Joe Armstrong) kneels before Miss Julie (Maxine Peake)  (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) Mr Monkey hadn't seen a Strindberg play before but he had heard that Mr August wasn't remembered for being the most chipper of men, or for his impish sense of fun. So it was with a sense of potential gloom that Mr Monkey set off to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Miss Julie, taking a banana with him in case he needed a pick-me-up afterwards. He stopped to look at the poster outside the theatre, then, once inside, scampered up to the Mezzanine Gallery to see A Pocket of Joy.

After taking his seat, Mr Monkey enjoyed listening to some Scandinavian fiddle music, expertly provided by Liam Gerrard, and admired the stage. There was a comfortingly solid kitchen table in the centre, a selection of carved chairs, a large cooking range, a staircase, and a small bell (which turned out to be a portent of doom).

Strindberg wrote Miss Julie (only he, being Swedish, called it Fröken Julie) in 1888; it's apparently famous for its naturalism and stylistic innovations. This production uses a new, literal, translation of the Swedish text, presenting the story more or less in real time, without an interval.

On Midsummer's Night Eve, 1888, a dangerous flirtation between a Count's daughter and his ambitious valet goes horribly wrong in a welter of class and gender conflicts.
Jean (Joe Armstrong) and Miss Julie (Maxine Peake) confront each other across the Count's kitchen  (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) The structure of the the play means that any production is dependent upon the performances of those playing Miss Julie and Jean the valet. Fortunately, Maxine Peake and Joe Armstrong are both very good.

Maxine Peake starts out capricious and confident (reminding Mr Monkey rather of Miranda Richardson's Queenie from Blackadder) but soon reveals a basically fragile and insecure nature. Slightly oddly, Strindberg seems to insist that Miss Julie's lack of opinions and real self confidence are a direct result of her having been educated.

In contrast, Joe Armstrong's Jean starts with a keen sense of propriety, which becomes eroded by the possiblities - a hotel on Lake Geneva! - offered by Miss Julie's advances.

Mr Monkey was also impressed by Carla Henry's strong portrayal of Kristin, who is a tower of good sense in a sea of unrealistic and conflicting ambitions.

The three leads produced intense and engaging performances that together with the atmospheric set drew the audience in. Mr Monkey felt that he was in the kitchen with the characters, rather than peering in through the windows.
Mr Monkey enjoyed the production, but decided that Strindberg wasn't really his cup of tea. Tossing an unwanted banana skin into a bin he set off for home, feeling increasingly cheerful.

Miss Julie runs until May 12th 2012.

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