The curtain comes up on a set which looks as though it’s literally been lifted from of the grandest National Trust houses in Britain. The country-house kitchen is superbly crafted, and the attention to detail is staggering, transporting us instantly back to 1945. The war is over; it’s the night the Labour party wins their overwhelming election victory over Churchill's Conservative campaign. The daughter of the house’s never-seen owner, the young Miss Julie (Helen George), has been out drinking the night away and, in a drunken act of defiance, mixing with the below-stairs boys.
But her debauchery moves into a different league once she enters the kitchen and focuses on the chauffeur, John (Richard Flood). From the beginning, there is an ease between John and fellow servant Christine (Amy Cudden), with an easy credibility about their relationship and where that would eventually go. But I wish the same could be said for the unfolding of Miss Julie and John's story. It’s unsubtle to the point of becoming unbelievable; within seconds of Miss Julie’s entrance, she is flirting as if she has played the seductress many times before, albeit with a demanding and cold attitude. It feels almost as if the couple have been intimate before the play begins, and are picking up where they left off.
With staccato dialogue and stiff-backed performances, I didn't really feel the chemistry at work, and the apparent instant lust between the pair just didn't take me with them. It’s especially incongruous when Miss Julie inevitably loses her virginity and, with it, seemingly her senses. Her descent from the naive seductress to a needy jilted woman is well done, and George portrays the tortured soul verging on madness with conviction. But because there hasn’t been any build-up to establish Miss Julie’s character, it’s hard to feel any compassion for her.
My sympathy lay completely with the innocent and trusting Christine, who still expects to marry her sweetheart John. I really enjoyed Cudden's reactions and responses to the drama unfolding before her, all played out with dignity and authenticity. I liked the occasional split focus too, with the dated kitchen set contrasting with the modern projection upon the tangoesque dance of seduction above.
The cameo appearance of the little dog was another highlight – it simply gets carried on stage through one door and immediately out of another, but it was a nice moment of light relief amongst a generally angst-ridden performance. But other moments were less convincing, including the needless killing of Miss Julie's bird, which provided some light relief for the audience rather than developing into the tragedy it might have been.
Flood portrays John’s callousness well, but the question of whether his desire was driven by love – or by having the chance to escape his own destiny – hangs in the air. In truth, it all gets a bit confusing and desperate towards the finale, and in the end I couldn't quite understand who really loved who and what the various characters’ motivations really are. And without that insight, I couldn't be moved by the final outcome. It’s a slightly disappointing end to a mixed bag of a play.