Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Until February 15
Seen at Kilmardinny Arts Centre, Bearsden
Touring until March 1
Reviews by Mark Brown
Strindberg’s timeless tragedy Miss Julie is like a risky chemical experiment. The mutually antagonistic elements of social class and gender are mixed with the wildly unstable catalyst of sexuality. The results are explosive.
First staged, as a small-scale touring production, by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2006, Zinnie Harris’s adaptation of the play convincingly relocates the impossibly distorted relations between John (head butler to a violently despotic mill owner) and Julie (the master’s daughter) to Scotland during the industrial unrest of the mid-1920s. Free of the physical constraints placed upon Harris’s self-directed staging of eight years ago, Dominic Hill’s new production for the Citizens Theatre caters admirably to the play’s paradoxical demand of both oxygen and claustrophobic tension.
On designer Neil Haynes’s appropriately grey lower quarters set, Louise Brealey (best known for playing the role of Molly Hooper in the BBC’s hit show Sherlock) offers an exceptional Julie. Her petite frame seems to shrink almost to invisibility in her moments of greatest vulnerability; yet, like a cornered cat arching its back, she is utterly transformed when she viciously asserts her social status.
Fleming, by brilliant contrast, exudes the discordant masculinity of a bull before the fight. Marxist in his political sympathies, he is tortuously ambivalent in his lust for Julie; by turns passionately reckless and callously dismissive.
Jessica Hardwick offers excellent support as Christine, the cook, who is engaged to John. Anguished, but ultimately flintily resolute, she is guided by a Presbyterian combination of Christian conviction and working-class pragmatism.
An enthralling, taut 80 minutes of theatre, Hill’s production relies consciously, but a little too heavily, on the frenetic suddenness of the situation in the last scene. One sees the logic in the accelerated tragedy, but doesn’t quite feel it sufficiently. This is a minor complaint, however, not least because the play’s final moment hits us with a shocking power.
Rantin, the latest piece by exciting, young dramatist Kieran Hurley (creator of the fine monodrama Beats), is a very different proposition. Comprised of short stories, performed miniature scenes and live music and song, it comes in the shape of an informal, front room ceilidh. Co-created by Hurley, Gav Prentice, Julia Taudevin and Drew Wright, and directed by Hurley himself, the piece takes deserved pleasure in its inherent contradictions.
Modest both in length (running, as it does, to just 90 minutes) and conception, the show nevertheless tries to encompass the plethora of meanings inherent in the notion of “Scottishness” in the 21st-century. From a notably isolated, neo-Luddite checkout assistant in Port Glasgow (who seeks revenge on the machines which have cost her much needed working hours) to the Palestinian refugee taking the bus to her new cleaning job in Clydebank, Rantin casts a wide net over contemporary Scotland.
Punctuated by a charmingly eclectic musical set, the production’s mini-narratives carry a combination of humanism, humour (particularly at the expense of Donald Trump) and no little amount of mourning for Scotland’s industrial past (especially in the case of Macpherson, an unemployed ranter in a Fife pub).
The tales vary in depth and, therefore, effectiveness and are too often heavily laden with pathos. The informal structure of the piece also struggles to carry the sheer quantity of material. Consequently, about an hour in, this uneven, if engaging, show begins to outstay its welcome.
For tour details for Rantin, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 9, 2013
© Mark Brown