Interview: Theatre-maker Zinnie Harris on tackling Strindberg's Miss Julie
New production of iconic work set for Citizens Theatre
In this new column, The List talks to a theatre-maker about a quality that makes their work distinctive. The Citizens Theatre, under Dominic Hill's artistic direction, has established a reputation for updating classic stories. Zinnie Harris' version of Strindberg's Miss Julie was first performed by the National Theatre of Scotland, but fits perfectly with Hill's vision of a contemporary theatre that has a respect for its history. Harris explains how she tackled this iconic work
What drew you to adapt Strindberg's classic play?
I have always been drawn to Miss Julie as I like plays that have a strong heroine. But whenever I have seen a production, I am curious that Julie is unsympathetic, almost a spoilt brat. I was interested in seeing whether it was possible to present her as a victim of circumstance. I wanted to get under her skin, so when she kills herself, the full tragedy is felt.
How did you approach updating it?
I choose to set it in the 1920s in Scotland, in a manor house. So Miss Julie's father, the Lord of the Manor, runs a mill, and the workers are striking. I wanted to explore the relationship between what was happening in the world and in the kitchen.
At the heart of the play is the sexual tryst between Miss Julie, the young aristocrat, and her father's valet. Does a contemporary version offer any new angles on this?
I am freer now than Strindberg was! Of course, that scene should always be an off-stage moment, but the encounter has been positive and exciting. They have both been changed by it, and then it is very cruel how it plays out for Julie: the valet John has enjoyed her freedom and chucks it back in her face. There is this double standard.
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 6–Sat 15 Feb.