REVIEW: Miss Julie – York Theatre Royal

Following an acclaimed run last year, New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse brought the Storyhouse production of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie to York Theatre Royal from 22-26 June. Strindberg’s Miss Julie has been adapted by Amy Ng and is directed by Dadiow Lin. Sophie Robinson returns to the role of Miss Julie, and is joined by Jennifer Leong as Christine and Leo Wan as John.

Reading the synopsis prior to this week’s show, Miss Julie, at York Theatre Royal, I was both intrigued by the story but appalled at myself that I hadn’t come across Strindberg’s work before. Not being familiar with the Swedish playwright, I came into the theatre this week with a completely open mid, unsure what to expect from the production.

Amy Ng has taken the 1888 play, and set her play on Chinese New Year in 1940’s Hong Kong, again, another time-period and cultural frame of reference I wasn’t particular au fait with. Julie, in this version, is the daughter of the British Governor in Hong Kong, John, the Governor’s Chauffeur and Christine the Governor’s chef. From reading the initial playwright synopsis, it felt that Ng kept the play very close to the original narrative whilst emphasising the racial issues between white and “yellow” individuals living and working in 1940s Hong Kong.

The 80 minute production, whilst at times was gripping, largely down the the adapted narrative, overall I did leave slightly underwhelmed by the piece. Glimmers of theatrical brilliance were there, with the Chinese Dragon dance representing the most intense sex-scene the standout scene of the show.

Individually, each actor played their character to a tee with Julie suitably arrogant and annoying to watch, whilst also infectious and providing opportunity for empathy from the audience. Christine’s personality shone, and whilst not the centre-piece of the play, I’d have liked more involvement from her in this edition. John, portrayed by Leo Wan was also superb, balancing the ambition and hope that made you want to like him, with the emotive, almost controlling behaviour towards the end.

I felt throughout, that whilst the individual performances sang, collectively, there was little on-stage chemistry between any of them. There seemed to be a distinct lack of context provided too between the history of John and Julie which I feel had the play being one of two acts, building the relationships more, this would have enhanced the final scenes much more skillfully.

It’s great to be back out in theatres and being critical almost feels wrong under the circumstances, but through flashes of excellent work, this just missed the mark for me. Maybe if I was more attuned to the original work this may have stood out more, but I would still encourage a visit and a watch to see some good acting, and to support our industry.

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