Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Tremendous enthusiasm and passion

Miss Julie

Black Rat Productions , The Gate, Cardiff , December-18-08
Miss Julie by Black Rat Productions In 2008 Richard Tunley’s Black Rat Productions came out with its first play, Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. It played to complete sell out audiences at the Wales Millennium Centre. Now this latest production has achieved the same result packing them in at the intimate theatre space in the bar/café of The Gate Art Centre. Early next year the company will return with a new production of Oedipus which will no doubt achieve much the same result. This demonstrates that there is a strong appetite for well known plays from the classic and British and international repertoire here in Cardiff and probably the rest of Wales.

With such an emphasis on new work from most of the established Welsh theatre producers it is left to small companies with little or no funding to fill this gap. A vital gap in the theatre map of Wales and one that could do so much to develop the size of audiences that the high quality of Welsh acting and directing now deserves.

Tunley has an experienced eye and his finely detailed set captured perfectly the kitchen low in the basement of the unseen Count’s mansion. The setting perfectly chimes with Strindberg’s naturalistic, late nineteenth century, innovative style. He was a passionate and pioneering writer moving soon after completing this play to an expressionist form of writing which was taken up by many authors of his time and right up to the present day. The play is rich with symbolism but this production’s strength is the clarity with which the story is told and the way in which the developing relationships between the three characters drive the inevitable, tragic story along.

First we see the ‘comfortable’ relationship between Christine the kitchen maid, a well rounded performance from Joan Hoctor and Jean her fiancée and footman to the count. We learn that the neurotic daughter of the house, the Miss Julie of the title has gate-crashed the servants’ annual midsummer night’s ball set in the large barn across the way. Becci Lewis’ Julie is certainly very attractive and conveys all the stresses and contradictions of the character with great zest and feeling. Her activities of mixing with the lower classes are of course, at this time in the history of human development, frowned upon and no more so than by the lower classes themselves.

This equips Jean with great strength which he uses as the play develops to reduce the aristocratic Julie to the depths of humiliation, despair and possibly to her death as at the closing moment of the play he hands her his open cut-throat razor. Lewis Cook draws us a fine, strong and self possessed young man whose inevitable sexually possessing of the count’s daughter gives us a strong yet ironic moral message; the mixing of the classes can only end in tears for all concerned. All that is except the crafty Jean although this production does leave us tantalisingly unsure whether or not he completely succeeds.

Whilst this young cast embrace their roles with tremendous enthusiasm and passion they need to seek out a greater degree of verisimilitude in order to totally elicit the audience’s concern over their sad and sorry plight.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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