I read Miss Julie (written in 1888) before the London performance at the lovely Jermyn Street Theatre in Piccadilly. This is my second time going to this tiny theatre, first being the The Dover Road, and it remained as charming as ever.
Miss Julie is the first play I read by the Swedish playwright August Strindberg. It’s regarded as his masterpiece. I like to start an author with what is considered to be his masterpiece, really. Why start with anything less? I felt like I heard his name often, so I just checked whether he’s a Nobel prize winner and if I could tick off another from my Nobel project, but alas, he’s not. Wiki says that in 1909, Strindberg “lost” to Selma Lagerlöf – the first woman and the first Swede to win Nobel prize in Literature. That reminds me that I’ve been meaning to read Gösta Berlings saga by Lagerlöf for a while. (As an aside, are you all just ecstatic as me for Kazuo Ishiguro?)
I read Miss Julie before seeing the performance, and I actually wasn’t sure about quite a few things on the play by just reading the script. And only after watching the stage play, my uncertainties were confirmed one way or another. For example, the script starts with a short description of the three characters: Miss Julia, age 25; ‘Jean’, the footman, age 30; Kristin, a cook. So it mentions the age of the first two characters, but not the third. Why? Is Kristin an old woman, as in too old to be paired with Jean? It took me a while to get that Kristin and Jean are together, while Miss Julie/Julia comes in between them.
This is really a perfect play for a small theatre like Jermyn Street. Thinking about it, they need to be very selective about the plays to run, and setting is probably the biggest factor, as they can’t afford to change setting mid play. Both Miss Julie and The Dover Road only uses a single setting. Miss Julie is set entirely in the kitchen (of an estate). The number of characters are crucial too I’m sure. Miss Julie has three characters, and The Dover Street four characters.
The story is so simple that it’s hard not to give anything away by summarising the plot. But like all good plays, the goodies are in the dialogue. There’s plenty of tension between classes (the old upstairs vs. downstairs). Miss Julie is in a way almost a caricature of an upper class. She’s brash and feels entirely entitled. Jean is more interesting, seemingly firm in rejecting Miss Julie’s advances at first, but at the end turned into… a monster of such, with no regard for her whatsoever. But what could he do, being merely a footman, with life and livelihood depending entirely on the owner of the estate (Miss Julie’s father)? He is a really torn character, and seems to reflect Strindberg in some ways, as his first wife, Siri von Essen was a noblewoman and socially above his standing.
I found some elements to be shocking. And if it’s shocking to me in 2017, I wonder how shocking it was back in 1889! Apparently it was produced abroad, attacked by the critics, and 25 years passed before it was seen on stage on his native land.
My copy is the Penguin edition with three Strindberg plays: Father, Miss Julia, and Easter. I’ve decided to just read the one I was going to see, as it is a completely different experience between just reading the script and watching the play. And after doing this pairing a few times, it feels incomplete to do just the former (though I guess watching the play without reading the script is completely fine).
Mee’s rating: 4/5