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Miss Julie—Theatre with a difference

Published: 
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Vedesh Nath, left and Rebecca Foster examine a beverage during a scene in Miss Julie, a 19th century Swedish drama brought to life and stage last week at Cipriani College. Photo: Wesley Gibbings

Veteran dramatist, Errol Sitahal and young, promising theatre director Aryanna Mohamad took a shot at August Strindberg’s 19th century Swedish drama, Miss Julie, with a youthful cast a week before Christmas on a Cipriani College stage. It was the significantly absent theatre-goers’ loss. The business risk had always been high, the theatrical risk even more challenging. Here is a play set in the context of post-manorial/feudal Europe focusing on a covert relationship between the daughter of a powerful and wealthy estate owner and a senior servant/driver.

The relationship deepens and is eventually consummated behind the back of the male servant’s fiancée, Christine, who is played by Tishanna Williams. It is finally determined that Miss Julie’s suicide is the only way out of the forbidden relationship. The play has been described as being after the tradition of “naturalistic” theatre which strives for authenticity and resists the temptation of the magical realism and farce now well known on local stages. There is nothing supernatural, no transcendental message—simply a story of two people in love in a situation of inequality and servitude. The play has even borne a “Darwinian” tag to emphasise its theme of survival.

The role of Miss Julie is played by Rebecca Foster while Vedesh Nath plays the male servant, Jean. Here, one more time, is Nath mis-cast in a role that does not appear to sit comfortably with him. He is “acting” all the time and never appears convinced of his character’s pleasurable but deadly dilemma. His lines seem affected and rehearsed. Foster, on the other hand, plays Miss Julie with relative ease. Hers is an outstanding, natural talent. She might not always be perfectly on cue with her lines, unlike the more precise Nath, but her dialogue flows effortless and seamlessly.

Miss Julie has in fact been adapted multiple times to reflect social conflict and inequity in several other countries and Sitahal and Mohamad could have taken the more clichéd road of master/slave relations a la pre-emancipation T&T and converted the dialogue to the vernacular but they kept on the straight and narrow and presented an adaptation of Strindberg’s work more in keeping with the authenticity demanded of the genre.

When Christine finds out about the affair, she confronts the couple and is offered a job as head cook in the hotel Miss Julie and Jean plan to open in Barbados. An angry Christine refuses and says she would make sure they cannot leave the estate. Miss Julie steals her father’s money to facilitate the lovers’ flight and the plan is called off when the master returns before they have the chance to flee. Christine would have by then also sealed off any opportunity for the two to leave in haste.

Miss Julie, chopper in hand, and Jean proceed to a back room where it appears she is prepared to take her own life. Williams brings her usual flare to the role of Christine and Renee King plays Clare the inquisitive servant who learns of the affair and plans to blow the couple’s cover. This Farrukh A Barlas production is deserving of a repeat before much larger audiences. It is certainly theatre with a difference.