Theatre review: Fraulein Julie, Barbican, London


In the past year, we have been treated to a slew of high-profile French, South African and home-grown takes on Strindberg's 1888 masterpiece. But it would be a shame if theatregoers felt too Miss Julie-ed out to brave this stunningly left-field version, directed by Katie Mitchell and Leo Mitchell.

It comes to the Barbican from Berlin's Schaubuhne Theatre with a mesmerising German cast and a script by Mitchell that brilliantly edits and adds a stream-of-consciousness layer to the original text. And it offers a quite literally bracing new angle on the play.

The piece may retain Strindberg's title but Fraulein Julie should actually be called Kristin, the name of the young cook who is the fiance of valet Jean (played here with a dark, nervous allure by Tilman  Strauss). In the original, the character plays second fiddle to the other pair in this this taut three-hander, so worn out with work that she drowses and then slopes sleepily off to bed, leaving the hoity mistress (Luise Wolfram), who festers with erotic fantasies of downward-mobility, and the servant with the reverse, to their own depraved devices.

Fraulein Julie is faithful to the story but shows it all from Kristin's weary and deeply troubled point of view. This being Mitchell and Warner in the radically Deconstructivist mode they developed in staging Woolf's Waves and Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Kristin is present in more than one guise. She's there in Jule Bowe's drained, anxious close-ups, often peering through windows or into mirrors, filmed live to a grieving live cello in footage that has the painterly Nordic beauty of, say, the works of Danish artist, Vilhelm Hammershoi. 

In a sound booth at the side, Cathlen Gawlich intones the existentialist, weirdly educated-sounding inner life that Mitchell's script provocatively bequeaths her: “cedars exist and cypresses and the cerebellum...”. And in a staging that is, in its hypnotic way, kinetically Cubist, close-up of Kristin's hands and other semi-disembodied parts are furnished by the actress playing Miss Julie.

By these studiedly non-naturalistic means and the switch of perspective, the directors succeed in re-administering an equivalent of the naturalist shock that original inflicted on its audiences in 1888. A marvel.

To May 4; 020 7638 8891