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Frank McGuinness presents scintillating new versions of two of August Strindberg's plays — one a major work, the other less well known. Miss Julie is Strindberg's examination of power, sex, and class, set on a midsummer's eve in a nobleman's house and focusing on the shifting relationship between Miss Julie, the daughter of the house, and Jean, her father's manservant. The Stronger is a short play that explores the complex range of emotions felt by Madame X when she encounters Mademoiselle Y, her husband's former...
Frank McGuinness presents scintillating new versions of two of August Strindberg's plays — one a major work, the other less well known. Miss Julie is Strindberg's examination of power, sex, and class, set on a midsummer's eve in a nobleman's house and focusing on the shifting relationship between Miss Julie, the daughter of the house, and Jean, her father's manservant. The Stronger is a short play that explores the complex range of emotions felt by Madame X when she encounters Mademoiselle Y, her husband's former mistress, at a fashionable cafe. Calling Mademoiselle Y worn out and evil, Madame X says that the triumph of her marriage proves she is the stronger of the two — even though these words ring hollow, as she attempts to deceive only herself.
Miss Julie was first co-produced by Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright, and the West End première was at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, on 23 February 2000, with the following cast:
Miss Julie Aisling O'Sullivan
Jean Christopher Eccleston
Kristin Maxine Peake
Directed by Michael Boyd
Designed by Tom Piper
Lighting designed by Rick Fisher
A large kitchen whose ceilings and side walls are hidden by drapes and borders.
The back wall stretches in up from stage left.
On the same wall there are shelves with copper, cast-iron and pewter pots.
The shelves are decorated with embossed paper.
Stage right three quarters of a large arched exit is visible with two glass doors.
Through them there is a fountain with a cupid, and flowering lilac bushes and tall upright poplars can be seen.
The corner and some of the hood of a large tiled stove can be seen stage left.
At stage right one end of the servants' white painted pine dinner table stands surrounded by some chairs.
The stove is decorated with leafy birch twigs.
The floor is strewn with juniper twigs.
On the end of the table there is a large Japanese spice jar with lilacs in bloom.
There is an ice-box, a draining board and a sink.
Above the door there is a large, old-fashioned bell, and on its left side there is a fixed speaking tube.
Frying something in a pan, Kristin stands by the stove.
She wears a light coloured cotton dress and an apron.
Jean enters, dressed in livery.
He carries a large pair of riding boots with spurs.
He places them somewhere visible on the floor.
Jean Off her head. The mistress. Julie. She's off her head, tonight.
Kristin So — he's here now?
Jean The Count — I took his Lordship to the station. I come back, I'm going past the barn, I walk into the dance. What do I see? Miss Julie, dancing with the gamekeeper. She's leading. Then she catches sight of me. She runs full into my arms. She asks me to dance. She starts to waltz — never seen the like of it. She's off her head.
Kristin She always was, but she's been worse the past two weeks since her engagement's been called off.
Jean What was the story there? Tell me that. He might not have had money but he had standing. People like that — if it's not one thing, it's something else. (He sits down at the end of the table.) I for one find it strange that a lady would rather stay at home with their servants than go off with her father to see her relatives. It's Midsummer Eve.
Kristin Maybe she can't face people after the bother with her fiancé.
Jean Maybe. But at least he was his own man. Do you know what happened, Kristin? Do you know that I saw it all — though I pretended I saw nothing.
Kristin You saw it?
Jean I did — I certainly did. The stable yard one evening, the two of them, Miss Julie putting him through his paces, that's what she called it. Do you know what happened? She had her riding whip and she made him leap over it. Like a dog. He leapt twice, and he felt the touch of the whip from her hand. Then he let her have it across the left cheek; he smashed the whip into a thousand pieces, and departed from the scene.
Kristin That's what happened, is it? No. Just as you say
Jean That's it exactly. Now come on, Kristin, have you anything nice for me?
She takes something from the frying pan and sets the table for Jean.
Kristin A bit of kidney, that's all. I cut it off the roast veal.
Jean smells the food.
Jean Excellent. Delicious — a great délice. (He touches the plate.) You could have warmed the plate.
Kristin Listen to him — more fussy than the Count himself when he sits down to eat.
She runs bet bands affectionately through his hair. He responds crossly.
Jean Don't touch me. I'm a sensitive man, you know that.
Kristin It's only because I'm mad about you and you know that.
Jean eats and Kristin opens a bottle of beer.
Jean Beer? On Midsummer Eve? I think not, thank you. I can do something better for myself. (He opens a drawer and takes out a bottle of red wine with yellow sealing wax on the cork.) Look — yellow sealing wax. A glass if you please. One with a stem — this you drink pur.
Kristin returns to the stove and puts a small pot on it.
Kristin God help the one who gets him for a husband. Such a fuss he makes.
Jean Is that so? I'd put money on you being delighted to land a strapping man like myself. I imagine you don't lose much face when people call me your intended. (He tastes the wine.) Good. Very good. Temperature not quite perfect though. (He heats the glass in his hand.)
Dijon — that's where we bought this. Without the bottle it set us back four francs a litre. There's duty on top of that. What are you cooking now? It stinks like hell.
Kristin Some dirty feed Miss Julie wants for her bitch, Diana.
Jean Kristin, would you please express yourself in a more ladylike manner? And why are you standing here sweating for that dog on Midsummer Eve? Is she not well?
Kristin She's not well. She smelt out the gamekeeper's dog. Now she has a pack of pups inside her. Miss Julie wants rid of them.
Jean Miss Julie gets on her high horse about one thing and doesn't give a tinker's curse about another. Just like her dead mother, the Countess. She was in her element in the kitchen and the barn, but she'd go nowhere with just the one horse. Her cuffs might need washing, but every button had to bear the coat of arms. As for Miss Julie, she does not give a damn about herself and her reputation. She was leaping about the barn at the dance and she tore the gamekeeper from Anna's arms, she wanted to dance with him. We'd never do a thing like that. That's what happens when the gentry demean themselves. That's when they fall. Still, she is a grand looking woman. Magnificent. The shoulder on her! And everything else.
Kristin Take it easy, will you? I know what Klara says, and she dresses her.
Jean Klara be damned. You women would eat each other out of jealousy. I've been out riding with her — and the way she dances.
Kristin Jean — will you dance with me when I'm finished?
Jean I will, of course, yes.
Kristin Is that a promise?
Jean Promise? When I say I will, then I will. The dinner was lovely, thank you.
He puts the cork in the bottle.
Miss Julie, in the doorway, speaks offstage.
Julie I will soon return. Carry on — carry on.
Jean hides the bottle in the drawer.
He gets up respectfully.
Miss Julie enters and goes to Kristin at the stove.
Julie Have you finished it?
Kristin indicates Jean's presence.
Jean asks gallantly:
Jean Are the ladies conversing in secrets?
Miss Julie hits him in the face with her handkerchief.
Jean The beautiful smell of violets.
Miss Julie flirts back.
Julie Impudent. He knows all about perfumes too. He certainly knows how to dance. Do not peep — just go away.
Jean replies with a mixture of cheek and respect:
Jean Are the ladies brewing some witch's spell especially for Midsummer Eve? Will someone be telling fortunes? Will the stars show the man you'll marry?
Miss Julie concludes sharply:
Julie if you can see that, then you must have extraordinary eyesight. (She turns to Kristin.) Throw that in a bottle, cork it tightly. Now, Jean, come and dance with me.
Jean is reluctant.
Jean I don't wish to be disrespectful, but I promised this dance to Kristin.
Julie She can have another, can't she? What do you say, Kristin? May I borrow Jean? Will you let me?
Kristin Not for me to say. If Miss Julie lowers herself to him, he could hardly say no. Let him go. He should thank her for the honour.
Jean I honestly want to cause no offence, but I doubt if it's wise that Miss Julie should have the same partner twice in a row. People soon get the wrong notion in these cases —
Miss Julie flares up:
Julie Cases — what is he talking about? What are these notions — explain.
Jean is evasive.
Jean If Miss Julie doesn't care to follow me, then I will have to explain. It does not look well if you favour one servant above others — they might come to expect the same —
Julie Favour! The idea of it! I am shocked! I am mistress of this house. I honour the servants' dance with my presence. When I actually want to dance, I wish to do so with a partner who can lead. That way I do not look ridiculous.
Jean Miss Julie's word is my command.
Miss Julie grows gentler.
Julie Not command — don't say that. We're happy tonight — celebrating — we've stripped away all the titles. Give me your arm, go on. Kristin, don't worry. I won't run away with your fiancé.
Jean offers her his arm and escorts Miss Julie off the stage.
This is acted as if the actress really is alone in the room. She turns her back to the audience. She doesn't look into the auditorium.
There is the faint violin music of a Scottish reel.
Kristin hums to the music as she clears up after Jean.
She washes the plate, dries it and puts it away in a cupboard.
She takes off her cook's apron.
She takes out a small mirror from a drawer in the table.
She tilts it against the jar of lilacs.
She lights a candle, heats a hairpin and curls her fringe.
She goes to the door and listens.
She returns again to the table.
She finds Miss Julie's handkerchief.
She picks it up and smells it, spreads it out pensively, smoothes it, stretches it and folds it into four parts.
Jean enters on his own.
Jean Off her head — she really is. Dancing in that manner. People standing mocking her behind the doors. Well, Kristin, what do you say to that?
Kristin She's not herself, it's her time of the month and then she's always strange. But what about yourself — will you dance with me now?
Jean I hope you're not cross because I left.
Kristin I'm not. Very little to make me cross there. I do know my place.
Jean puts his arms around her waist.
Jean Kristin, you're a sound girl and you'll make a sound wife.
Miss Julie enters, is unpleasantly surprised and remarks with forced jollity:
Julie So you have abandoned your partner — how charming.
Jean Not so, Miss Julie. I've run back to the one I left behind.
Miss Julie paces the floor.
Julie No one dances as well as you do, do you know that? Why are you wearing your uniform on Midsummer Eve? Take if off immediately.
Jean Then I must ask you, Mam, to excuse yourself — my black coat is hanging over there.
Julie Is he shy in front of me? Too shy to change a jacket? Run into your room and then toddle back. No, maybe you should stay and I won't peep.
Jean Whatever you wish, my lady.
He exits the stage right.
His arm is visible as he changes his jacket.
Julie Jean is so casual with you — is he really your fiancé?
Kristin Fiancé? He is my intended, if you like. That's what we call it.
Julie Call it?
Kristin Well, Miss Julie, yourself, had a fiancé and -
Julie That's true, but we were properly engaged —
Kristin So properly the engagement ended.
Jean enters wearing a black coat and black hat.
Julie Très gentil, monsieur Jean, très gentil — très gentil.
Jean Vous voulez plaisanter, Madame.
Julie Et vous voulez parler français. Where did you learn it?
Jean Switzerland. I was sommelier in one of the biggest hotels at Lucerne.
Julie In those clothes you look so like a gentleman. Charmant. (She sits down at the table.)
Jean You're flattering me.
Miss Julie is hurt.
Julie I'm flattering you?
Jean I'm modest by nature. That modesty prevents me from imagining that you would utter truthful compliments to one in my position, so I must take the liberty of assuming that you have exaggerated — you have indulged in flattery.
Julie Where did you learn such phraseology? You must have gone to the theatre often.
Jean I have indeed. I have been in many theatres — I have.
Julie Weren't you born here on the estate?
Jean My father worked as a labourer on the next door estate — the Attorney's. I used to see Miss Julie when she was a child, but Miss Julie did not notice me.
Julie No — is that so?
Jean Yes, that's so, I remember very clearly once — no, I can't speak about that.
Julie You can, you can, just for me. Make one exception.
Jean I can't really. Perhaps another time.
Julie Another time may never arrive. What's the danger in telling me now?
Jean No danger — I just don't want to. Look at that one.
He points to Kristin who has fallen asleep in a chair by the stove.
Julie That one will make the most divine wife — she will. Does she snore as well, perhaps?
Jean She doesn't — she does talk in her sleep though.
Miss Julie asks cynically:
Julie She talks in her sleep — how do you know?
He replies cheekily:
Jean I've heard her.
There is a pause and they watch each other.
Julie Sit down — won't you?
Jean In your presence I am now allowed to sit?
Julie If I command you?
Jean I'll obey.
Julie Sit down — no, wait. Fetch me something to drink first.
Jean I don't know if we have anything cold. Beer — that's all — I think.
Julie That's all right. I have simple tastes. Beer suits me more than wine.
He takes a bottle of beer from the ice-box.
He looks in the cupboard for a glass and plate.
He serves her.
Thank you. Have one yourself — go on.
Jean I'm not a beer man. But if Miss Julie commands —
Julie Commands? My good sir, I believe it is manners to keep your lady company.
Jean That is absolutely true. (He opens another bottle and takes a glass.)
Julie Now — drink a toast to me.
I do believe the poor boy is shy.
On his knees, parodying, he raises his glass.
Jean Oh mistress mine!
Julie Bravo! Kiss my shoe — now — you have to — then it is finished.
He hesitates, but then grasps her foot gamely and kisses it lightly.
Excellent. You should have been an actor.
He gets up.
Jean This is not right, Miss Julie. What if someone came in and saw us —
Julie What if?
Jean People gossip. That's what if. If Miss Julie knew how their tongues were wagging up there just now —
Julie What were they saying? Talking about me? Sit down.
He sits down.
Jean I don't want to insult you — there were statements made that cast aspersions of the kind that — you know yourself. You're not a child. They see a lady on her own drinking at night with a man, even a servant, then —
Julie What then? Anyway, we're not on our own. Kristin, she's here.
Jean She's dead to the world.
Julie Kristin? Are you sleeping?
Kristin mumbles in her sleep.
Kristin? She has a gift for this. Sleeping.
Kristin mutters in her sleep.
Kristin Boots — polish the Count's — coffee — hurry — make coffee — hurry.
Miss Julie grabs Kristin's nose.
Julie Wake up.
Jean answers her sternly:
Jean Don't disturb her sleep.
Miss Julie reacts harply:
Jean A woman slaving over a stove all day has the right to be tired at night-time. You should respect the sleep —
Miss Julie is pacing the floor.