Theatre: Miss Julie; The Gate, London

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The Independent Culture
Dangling from hooks over the front of the stage in the Actors Touring Company's new production of Miss Julie is a line-up of kitchen implements such as would come inhandy if you were to take up cooking a la Jeffrey Dahmer. Luridly lit through the polythene sheeting which makes the "offstage" areas macabrely visible to us, Kristin Hewson's glaring- eyed Kristin can be seen, at the start, raising a cleaver. You don't need to be a genius to predict that, sooner or later, something is for the chop. Nor does it take long to recognise that what is being knifed in the back here is Strindberg's play.

I have no problem with non-naturalistic treatments of this great work. Directors from Steven Berkoff to Ingmar Bergman have demonstrated the benefits of heightening the associative, dream-like elements in this sex duel between a male servant who aspires to rise from the mud and an aristocratic bitch with vertiginous desires to topple fatally in it.The problem with Nick Philippou's production (which uses a translation by Gregory Motton) lies not so much in the conception as in the ineptlyover-the-top execution. From the moment he bursts into Angela Davies's stainless steel, suffocating trap of a kitchen, Peter Lindford's shiftily twitching Jean seems more like someone on trial release from a padded cell than a believable mix of ruthless calculation and slave mentality. First seen auto-erotically rubbing her crotch against the door jamb, Kate Fenwick's Miss Julie never possesses the poky space as if she felt she had an aristocrat's right to it. That sense of being glacially on heat, that frisson-inducing combination of insolence and masochism which you get from the best exponents of the role are barely registered here in a performance which resorts to crude effects (as when she maniacally stuffs her face with bottled fruit).

Though this pair wind up having stylised, explosive sex in the smeared polythene side-booth, there has been next to no erotic tension beforehand and a Miss Julie without erotic tension is like The Sound of Music without nuns. The performances seem bafflingly unconnected, each marooned in its own alienating weirdness. Indeed, there are moments when you feel you could be watching contestants on Whose Line Is It Anyway? doing a parody of the play. One sequence works brilliantly. Whetting his razor on a strop held between his teeth as the stage directions stipulate, a madly smiling- eyed Lindford seems to egg Miss Julie on with a sort of masturbatory murderousness as she tries with a desperate, progressively less convinced eagerness, to persuade Kristin that the three of them could escape and set up a hotel together. Given what we see of the trio in this particular staging, you sense that any such establishment would beat the Bates Motel in the pas vaut le detour stakes.

To 11 May (0171-229 0706)