Theatre Miss Julie Young Vic, London

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The Independent Culture
From the moment you enter the auditorium, you know what the vast kitchen table is going to be used for. Robert Innes Hopkins's design is stunning, achieving both large-scale symbolism and satisfying detail. The stone floor has a large drain cover under the table, a pestle and mortar are laid out ready to prepare herbs for Miss Julie's canine abortion brew, and the whole room is dominated by the steps which rise, Everest- like, to the upper quarters.

Polly Teale's direction is restrained and surprisingly conventional in this most suggestive setting. She does, however, give us the fully choreographed de-flowering on the table, which is tastefully ungraphic but during which the jug of roses is knocked flying, spilling water everywhere.

That Jean could be so very casual after having dishonoured the daughter of his master comes as no surprise. John Hannah plays him as a nasty piece of work. In the kitchen with Kirstin, his intended, he ignores her statement of love, and her rolling eyes tell us she is used to such ill-treatment. Even at a moment of most intense intimacy with Julie, confessing his boyhood adoration for her, his smile is an unconvincing leer.

Miss Julie herself, as interpreted by Susan Lynch, is a naive and spoilt aristocrat, rather than the mould-breaking, discontented free-thinker that the text suggests. Only after her fall do the complexities of her changing situation engage us. The possibility of her and Jean really making something of their mutual frustrations with the class system, by eloping together, becomes intriguingly close, and then again unlikely. In the end, though, her cry of horror as Jean decapitates her pet greenfinch is reduced by melodramatics to mere childish tantrum.

Perhaps Meredith Oakes's broadly modern version puts us in a 20th-century frame of mind, leaving us wondering what all the fuss over a simple indiscretion is about. This leaves Cara Kelly as Kirstin as the real heroine of the production. Alone in the kitchen while Jean dances with Julie, Kirstin waits with dignity. All her tasks are done, so she starts a jig by herself and doesn't complain when they return. The next morning, however, when the metaphorical milk has been spilt all over her kitchen, she pulls herself up to her full, morally superior height. She gets all the laughs, and most of the sympathy, too.

n To 20 April. Booking: 0171-928 6363