If you thought London theatre was having a Scandi moment – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, and now Miss Julie at the Barbican – you’d be wrong. In fact, this Miss Julie is a Mademoiselle Julie, a Festival d’Avignon production which is very, very French.
It was all in the style. Juliet Binoche’s sensual Miss Julie shimmers in floor-length gold sequins (Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, naturally). The fashionably-dressed party guests, who dance to a soundtrack with just the right mix of Blondie and Madcon, embody Gallic cool. Even the one dressed as a giant rabbit (more on this later) manages to look chic.
But the show-stealer is the set. Laurent P Berger has created a white, light-flooded box divided into three slices by sliding glass panels. The slender white birch trunks, which break up the acting space couldn’t be further from the ‘gloomy forest’ of Jean’s nightmares.
On the whole, it worked for me. If it was a bit hard to appreciate the full extent of Julie’s degradation when the lowly kitchen of Strindberg’s play looked like it could plausibly belong to Nigella Lawson, towards the end of the play the set really came into its own as Julie and Jean scurried around like frenzied lab rats under the increasingly bright light.
The transparent set also allowed the party guests to remain onstage, their dancing behind the glass screen getting gradually more languorous and dream-like. That is, until after Julie and Jean’s assignation, when, led by the bunny, they advance menacingly downstage to tribal music. Odd.
The biggest disappointment was the sound. Binoche and Nicolas Bouchard (Jean) wore microphones: fair enough in a theatre the size of the Barbican, but there were occasionally some odd stereo effects and time-lag issues. Worse, when the pair locked in passionate embrace (a frequent enough occurrence in this play), their mics rustled and clunked.
There was lots to admire in this production. Bouchard’s Jean was nicely mercurial, by turns charming and brutal. Binoche played some of Julie’s tantrums for laughs, which came as a welcome relief, but she never became ridiculous. There were moments of real tenderness between the two. But style sometimes threatened to win out over substance in this production.
Continues until 29th September, book here.
Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Hall.