Muddy must-see: After Miss Julie at Yvonne Arnaud
Last night I saw After Miss Julie at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. I’ve been excited about seeing this one peeps. Very excited. And it didn’t disappoint. It was salacious, sexy and shocking – everything you could ask for on a soggy Tuesday night.
Helen George was in the lead role as the flirty and sultry Miss Julie in this cast of three. This is only the second week for this production, having opened in Bath last week. It’s at Guildford until Saturday, then tours a bit before heading to the West End.
But you want to know about the sex and scandal, right? After Miss Julie is a version of August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie, written by Patrick Marber. It’s the upstairs/downstairs story of the pretty little rich girl, flirting with and seducing her father’s chauffeur and valet – while his fiancee looks on.
All of the action takes place in the basement kitchen of an English manor house, in July 1945 on the eve of and the morning after the British Labour Party’s election victory. There’s a party going on upstairs, and Miss Julie comes into the kitchen where chauffeur John and Christine, a cook, are finishing up for the night.
George plays the role of the coquettish Miss Julie better than I thought she would. She has the insecure and self-destructive young mistress down to a T, flitting between a desire for love and approval and a need for power and superiority. This is all about class conflict and sex war. It’s intense, shocking and tragic. “You’re still a servant,” Julie trills at John at one point, to which he responds: “And you’re a servant’s slut”.
Richard Flood is splendid as the proud and virile John. He’s despicable to both girls, and yet recognises that he’s trapped within his place in the world. “Men like me can rise like bread, but never like cake,” he says. Amy Cudden completes the triangle, giving a wonderfully polished performance as the careworn Christine.
The set is beautifully authentic, with large shuttered windows letting in the late evening light and then later, the early morning light, in a remarkably convincing way. And when Christine is cooking, you can smell the livers frying (or was it bacon!!).
There’s a wonderful scene early on where Miss Julie entices John upstairs to the party to dance with her, and the couple’s sensual and sexy silhouette is seen above the kitchen.
This is a one act play, in which the pace and intensity builds throughout. It makes for suspenseful – almost voyeristic – viewing. I was almost disappointed when it finished, partly because it was so good, but mostly because I wanted more. Go see for yourself, but be quick because it’s only in Guildford until Saturday.
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Millbrook, Guildford, GU1 3UX. Tel: 01483 44 00 00. Tickets: £23-£34.50. yvonne-arnaud.co.uk