The Rose Theatre's "Behind Closed Doors" season pairs August Strindberg's 1888 tragedy Miss Julie with Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce. Why? As a theme, "Behind Closed Doors" is flimsy: "Plays Set in a Room" or "Plays About Humans" would have done just as nicely.
At a push, you could say both works involve night-time commotions and no one has frolicking, happy sex in either. Peter Hall's staging of Bedroom Farce moves at a decent clip: within 20 minutes we know all the couples who inhabit the three bedrooms on stage.
Ernest (Nicholas Le Prevost, superbly grumbly) and Delia (Jane Asher, mistress of the clipped, prim pronouncement) are the old pair whose idea of a racy time is sardines on toast in bed. Even this proves too much excitement. Sour-faced Nick, meanwhile, is laid up with a bad back, and Jan (Lucy Briers) can't wait to escape him and get to a party thrown by Malcolm and Kate, tittering newlyweds who hide each other's shoes as foreplay. At the core of the chaos are the flakily neurotic Trevor and Susannah (Rachel Pickup), whose volatile off-again, on-again relationship throws everyone's sleeping arrangements into disarray.
Hall keeps the comedy quick and dippy (one scene consists of a supine Nick wailing "Help!"). And Le Prevost enjoys himself no end, frequently holding the farce aloft with his harrumphing and eyebrows like semaphores.
The play is near to irresistibly funny, and often as comforting as a milky drink. Yet the farce has a melancholy underlay: marriages that seem content emerge as uneasy truces, others go sour.
There's no pressing reason driving Stephen Unwin's revival of Miss Julie, set in a kitchen surrounded by a fairytale woodland clearing. The central relationship, between the lady of the house, Julie (Rachel Pickup) and her father's footman, Jean (Daniel Betts), makes for few sparks and less sense.
Strindberg's battle of class and sex seems too calculated here. Betts is brusquely efficient as the socially climbing servant. Pickup's Julie is highly strung, and looks elegant in a snow-white and rose-red gown, but she's never quite berserk enough to make us believe in the headlong force of her self-destruction. And frankly, neither character seems avid enough for sex, let alone freedom from fixed social roles.
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