A touch of class [by Sharu Delilkan]
Coming to see Patrick Marber’s play After Miss Julie was an experience in itself. Right from the get-go it was obvious that the producers of the show had taken a lot of care to ensure that the audience were going to be taken care of. I say this because it is seldom that you get someone standing at the bottom of the stairs leading to The Basement’s Studio ushering you with a torchlight – well done co-producers Kristin Burns and Jodie Hillock for the great finishing touches. And when we walked into the space, the way it was configured was nothing short of a revelation. To say it was in a round would be wrong – so it was decided after post-show discussions that the seating was on the periphery. Whatever you call it, The Basement‘s Studio has never looked so big and inviting!
The three actors, Jodie Hillock (Miss Julie), Dena Kennedy (Christine) and Erroll Shand (John) utilised the space to its fullest. And being in the front row gave us even more of a dramatic view, especially when the actors were literally performing at our feet.
The 1940s-esque show set in the Downton Abbey/new version of Upstairs Downstairs is a great study of the changes in the class system following World War One. The blurring of master and servant; duty and obligation; desire and prostitution were beautifully juxtaposed and played out in a varied and luxurious set with topnotch actors. It was a battle of the classes more than a battle of the sexes. And provided a refreshing change where like Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs the lower classes win over the masters by maintaining more decorum and dignity.
It truly was a case of “when they try to act common, they become common”, with the debauchery of the upper classes emboldening the servants to greater arrogance and entitlement.
Being a little biased it was fantastic to see Hillock embody Miss Julie as the confident, privileged, posh, rich and demanding ‘upstairs’ member of the household. I found the relationship between Miss Julie and the valet/chauffeur John hauntingly similar to the that of Lady Persi and driver Harry Spargo in the new Upstairs Downstairs series. What was even more interesting is that the later premiered in 2010, seven years following the After Miss Julie’s premiere. I can’t help wonder whether Marber’s play inspires that storyline in Upstairs Downstairs?
Overall the acting was truly wonderful – all three actors Hillock, Kennedy and Shand distinguish themselves. The same can be said of Cameron Rhodes’ directing, which is not just spot on but pushes the boundaries successfully.
It’s great to see such high caliber plays being staged in the studio. May this season of After Miss Julie enjoy the packed houses it deserves during this 10-day run.
After Miss Julie is presented by One Lonely Goat and plays at The Basement Theatre until 7 September. More information at The Basement Theatre