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Miss Julie is a personal favorite of mine, so I was keen to see director Vernon Douglas’s version when it popped up, having missed the Young Vic’s production earlier this year. It might be seen as a bit risky attempting to put on a classic play on the London fringe scene, due to the fringe’s current fashion for new writing and classics being given their time at more established venues. However, Odd Man Out Productions have squashed this pattern and added their production of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie into the mix. I was initially a little surprised to see this play being produced at Peckham’s wonderfully atmospheric and quirky Bussey Building, due to the venue’s recent links with the Royal Court’s “Theatre Local”, however the old-fashioned, warehouse feel lends itself perfectly to the servants’ quarters of Miss Julie’s house where the play is set. A violinist who, from the start, provides a dark, mysterious atmosphere, serenades the audience as they enter. He then continues to under score throughout the play. In general, I find music used during dialogue to be a little bit of a cop out for the actors involved, as the music often forces a particular emotion on the audience rather than the actors having to work hard themselves, however in this case it does work, and the music, improvised beautifully by Jose Gandia, gives a lovely tone to many of the more poignant moments in the play without being over powering or distracting.

Miss Julie is a challenge for any young actor as it deals with the complex but universal themes of love, power, idealization, equality, inequality, class, money and status (to name a few), but the cast do well at telling the story clearly to a receptive audience. Lydia Orange provides a beautifully, posed and at some points vulnerable Miss Julie, and drives the bulk of the play with vigor and energy. However, her relationship with Jean (Nicholas Clarke) isn’t entirely clear and she sometimes comes across as more of a spoilt teenager rather than the manipulative lady of the house. The lack of chemistry between the pair and her insufficient provocation towards Clarke makes it hard for the audience to invest in the power shift later on.

Clarke seems a little hesitant at times, stumbling over the text slightly, which immediately detaches the audience from the onstage action, however he begins to take control of his role and provides a delightfully sinister Jean as the play progresses. The performances are a little safe throughout, and as the text is so full of extremes and opportunities, they could do with playing with these more. The direction is simple but clear, allowing focus on the relationships between the actors rather than the aesthetics of the production.  Although, at times Douglas’s directorial choices are a little odd and obvious, particularly noticeable in Christine’s (Henriikka Kemppi) movements, which are often a little distracting. We do glimpse some passion from Kemppi in the fierce revelation scene with Clarke towards the end of the play, but again we need more clarity and meaning in the couple’s relationship from the outset in order to empathise with Kemppi’s plight.

It also isn’t entirely clear what period the play is set as we get little indication from the set, and the costumes are perhaps a tad generalized and confused. I couldn’t help but feel that more of a sense of setting could have been evoked throughout, as I didn’t really believe there was a party going on in the other room, or that it was Midsummer’s eve – not helped of course by the cold auditorium!

In all, this is a pleasing production of a complex and beautifully written play, given life by the young cast, and it is worth a watch.  However it lacks a certain amount of maturity and depth, which Strindberg’s piece perhaps needs to do it real justice.

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REVIEWED 02/11/12

By Molly Roberts

31st Oct – 17th Nov 2012
The Bussey Building, London, SE15.

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