Each of those cases we read of in the newspapers, where bosses fall in love with their secretaries, teachers with their students and politicians with their junior aides, reinforce our fear of the disruption of hierarchy. Yet, as the philosopher Foucault pointed out, we also have a fascination for such cases, since each in its way represents the potential for sexuality to subvert the everyday power structure of the workplace, something we revel in, but repress. It is perhaps this aspect of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, here presented in a new version by Zinnie Harris, who also directs, which so intrigues. There are no major departures from the original here, except in a historical and spatial relocation of the action to Scotland of the 1920s, where the mighty forces of industrial action form a backdrop. Here, Julie (Samantha Young) is the daughter of the local mill owner, and her giddy-headed amour for butler John (Andy Clark) leads not only to trouble between he and his intended, the kitchen servant Christine (Georgina Sowerby), but an undermining of the class and workplace powers that be.
A tight, in-the-round design by Lizzie Clachan and splendid lighting from Kai Fischer add to the sweaty, sexy, midsummer’s eve atmosphere as the powerful, unspoken British apartheid of class moves to crush the protagonists. Harris contemporises the characters beyond the setting here, for as a working man who has been taught to engage in politics as a spectator sport, rather than something that directly affects him as it dramatically does, John seems distinctly of our own time. So, too, Christine’s desperate working-class Toryism and Julie’s total ignorance of the hostilities that privilege evokes seem more historically immediate than their temporal location. All the same, the repeated reifying stage business of floor scrubbing and household tasks, as well as the occasional insight into the dream landscapes of the characters, is as compelling as ever in creating the divided selves we encounter. The performances, all three, are of very high quality, with Clark’s callous but occasionally brittle egoist especially compelling, making for a strong evening of theatre.