first night

Miss Julie

Tom Mander reviews Pitch Productions' take on a 19th century classic.

 Pitch Productions debut of Miss Julie by August Strindburg is a complex commentary of status, sex, and society in late 19th century Sweden; not an easy task for director Isabelle Culkin to bring to life for the Assembly Room’s last show of the term. Yet, Pitch Productions illuminated this defining piece of naturalism with thoughtful insight, outstanding acting, and immaculate attention to detail.

 

The audience was greeted with the curtains open and the set before them. The exposed boundaries of the servants’ area of an upper-class house backed by a beautifully painted garden scene on the back wall. The symbolic backdrop was complemented by the vividly real foreground, which created the exciting environment in which the drama was set. The gradual fading of the bright lighting upstage created a dynamic passage of time. The fades were timed to perfection in matching the tone of the scene; for instance Miss Julie’s recollection of her past with the lilac backdrop was notably calmer to the adjacent scenes of tension.

 

The opening scene started a little stilted, but when the cast found their rhythm, they delivered a master class in how naturalism should be. Luke Maskell’s presentation of Jean held the audience’s attention with a tender portrayal of his softer characteristics, which dissolved as Jean’s darker self was revealed. Using the fourth wall to tell his backstory to, both Miss Julie and the audience were seduced simultaneously, further pulling us into the emotions of the play. In some of the middle scenes, the energy fell away and some of the dialogue lost its pace but I don’t feel it significantly detracted from the play. Eliza Cummings-Cove’s interpretation of Miss Julie was a delight to watch; she shone when delivering Miss Julie’s heightened confessions, pleas and passion – especially towards the play’s climax. The end of the play provided Eleanor George with her greatest moments as Kristin: her abandoning of Miss Julie and Jean created a truly moving moment.

 

Culkin’s insight into such a morally subversive play must be applauded – her imaginative insight lifted the play past these challenges and created some excellent thought provoking moments. The ‘Ensemble scene’ broke up the moral reflections by adding a spontaneity into the opening that reawoke the audiences perception of what was happening. My most significant reservation with this play is that I thought they could have been used more, later on. The attention to detail in the props and costumes made an excellent enhancement to the naturalism and honoured the source material appropriately. I think the pinnacle of the play came in the ‘bird scene’ (you will know it when you see it, you can’t miss it), the attention to detail creating a captivating platform for the actors to play off, which they did spectacularly. Cummings-Cove’s emotional shattering of Miss Julie’s past was fantastic.

 

Pitch Productions have shown their strength as a company in this excellent performance and brilliantly rounded off an exceptional term of theatre for DST. In their casting and use of a varied repertoire of techniques, they have shown how they can compete with some of the longer established theatre companies in Durham. Miss Julie was an excellent evening’s theatre – I’m sure it’s only a taster of what they can bring to the DST scene.

17 December 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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