NT Live: Julie
by Anita Markoff
This eclectic modern adaptation of Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ is beautifully produced, but lacks the savagery and meaning of the original.
A self-obsessed, privileged but traumatised girl, Julie, flutters around the stage barefoot, inspiring disgust and pity at interchanging moments. A binary opposition between rich white Julie and working-class black Jean is established clearly as they engage in a passionate, evolutionary power struggle. However, there are elements of their relationship that miss the mark. It is unrealistic for a chauffeur to obey his employer’s daughter when she defiantly orders him to change out of his suit and come dance with her, as the power of the upper class has faded since the late 1800s, and wealth no longer grants unreasonable power over staff. Neither are the stakes for their transgressive affair as high: Julie and Jean may experience overwhelming guilt for their part in Jean’s infidelity to his fiancé Kristina, Julie’s Brazilian maid, but there would be no consequences for their actions strong enough to inspire their panicked frenzy.
The volatile sexual encounter between Jean and Julie leaves the audience with an immense amount of pity for both the mentally unstable Julie and the wronged Kristina, deprived of her dignity and the only relationship that made her life bearable. These conflicting sentiments don’t allow a sense of resolution. We cannot blame Julie for her selfishness with a clear conscience, as her actions are fuelled by the trauma of her mother’s suicide, which has emotionally tipped her over the edge, while Kristina is truly innocent: a kind, immigrant woman, working hard in a degrading job to provide for her child. The blame then falls on the shoulders of the black man who provokes Julie’s tragic demise and acts callously towards both her and Kristina. Despite the well-crafted script and dazzling choreography, the play falls flat as it slips into a very old stereotype – the working class black man as the bad guy.