Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 24 – Oct 6, 2013
Playwright: Simon Stone after August Strindberg
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Actors: Taylor Ferguson, Brendan Cowell, Blazey Best
Belvoir’s production of Miss Julie is a radical update of the Strindberg classic. It relocates the characters to modern day Australia, drastically changing its form, language, and ideology. Key plot developments are retained, ensuring that the excitement and drama of the original are utilised to their full potential. Importantly, the political unsavouriness inherent in Strindberg’s pre-feminist 1888 work undergoes thorough subversion, giving rise to a new creation that re-imagines a powerful story, and uses it to make a statement that is representative of our times. It is a feminist act to revamp the work, but the political message contained in this new production is thankfully more ambiguous and sophisticated.
Brendan Cowell does exceedingly well by quickly establishing the play in its time and space with a familiar Aussie bloke caricature from his very entrance. He performs the charming larrikin with gusto, and is immediately likable as well as extraordinarily funny. This man has charisma in spades and isn’t afraid to use it, which is appropriate for the role of a man who is caught between two women. Miss Julie traverses very dark territory, and Cowell’s comic presence serves well to keep the tone humorous, although there are a few points that could have been more impactful if things were allowed to go more serious and grave.
Taylor Ferguson plays the 16 year-old Julie with an enthralling character development that could surprise any seasoned theatre-goer. The role showcases her versatility and courage as a young actor, and the play relies solely on her strengths to introduce a sense of believability and empathy. While her Julie is not the most endearing character to behold, the effect she has on her audience is deep and enduring.
Director Leticia Cáceres and playwright Simon Stone have created this new Miss Julie with a young, revolutionary voice. Their work is fiercely contemporary and fearlessly dramatic. The politics of the story is not immediately evident, but it is the reconstruction of works in the “misogyny cannon” (Cáceres’ words) that is relevant, and one can only hope that they return to that cannon and disrupts it again one play at a time.