Review: Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal

The setting of this play in 1940s Hong Kong is inspired. The festival of the longest day of the year in Sweden has been exchanged for the Chinese New Year. The 24 hours of daylight for the vibrancy of the Orient and the craziness which affects Julie at this time of year seems all the more powerful. Julie is the daughter of The Governor General who comes uninvited to visit the servants. Normal behaviour is reversed, status becomes confused and Julie dares to confront her own sexuality.

By Angie Millard

The use of colonial Hong Kong emphasises Racial Politics. The Chinese are seen as a different and inferior class and by association the political situation in contemporary Hong Kong is seen historically.

Gender and the power of male supremacy is underlined in the complex relationships between Christine, John’s fiancé, and Julie, the mistress. Christine plays a different role in this version and Leong subtly shows more clearly what is motivating John.

Leo Wong demonstrates his ambivalent servitude. He is proud and looking for a means to show that his true qualities are not diminished by his daily life, He has dreams of success as a hotelier and this is paramount. Jennifer Leong is pragmatic and shows the inner strength of her character as she watches and waits.

Sophie Robinson captures the weakness of Julie’s position in the irresistible urge to give herself to John.  Status and power are shown to be an illusion. She is not the Governor; she is his daughter and her dominance rests on the maintenance of class superiority. She issues orders with childish petulance. Her position is precarious and Robinson plays that with a sense of doomed tragedy.

John holds the power and once the situation which Julie has created comes to its inevitable conclusion, Leo Wong shows his indifference to her fate. In this version of the play Julie has alternatives but her inability to take them seals her future.

A simple set made of bamboo canes and hung with Chinese lanterns is extremely effective. The use of the Dragon Dance as a symbol of Julie and John’s lovemaking is masterly and thus avoids the need for physicality which is true to Strinberg’s original text.

This production reflects current events and politics in China and emphasises the gulf between poor and the rich  However, it loses the power of male sexual dominance which was very much part of the original message.

The play opened last night and it is uncommon to see such intelligent re-thinking of a theatre classic. The director and adapter worked together to produce a thought-provoking production. Don’t miss it.

Miss Julie is playing at York Theatre Royal until 26 June 2022. The director is Dadlow Lin.