This was my first visit to Waterloo East Theatre: tucked away under the railway arches, it could hardly be closer to Waterloo Station. It is a 100-seat with a good rake to the seats, so the view is excellent.
Lady J is a new translation of August Strindberg’s 1888 classic Miss Julie. The translator, Dr. Lewis Webb, has worked with the director, Christina James, to bring the play up to date, moving it from a Swedish count’s estate on Midsummer’s Eve to Burns’ Night at an elite Scottish University. Aside from the change in time and place, this adaption is faithful to Strindberg’s plot. Lady J is the daughter of the provost; she has been away from home to complete her degree but is now back home having recently broken off her engagement. She is a very confused young woman, who does not seem to know where she belongs. She decides to leave the formal dinner which is taking place off stage and join the servants’ Burns’ night celebrations.
The set is simple as befitting a small theatre, with little more than a sofa and a drinks trolley, but I was very impressed by portraits of Lady J’s family, original artwork by Miles Sheldon. The small cast of three are all excellent in their roles: Marianne James as Lady J ably demonstrates Julie’s confusion as she tries to be both at one with the servants and then exert her superiority upon them when she feels uncomfortable in that role. Joshua Urquhart is Jock, butler to the provost, who claims to have loved Lady J since she was a child but is now out for what he can get, planning on escaping from the estate and making something of himself. He doesn’t seem to see any wrong in betraying his fiancée, the housekeeper Kirsten, to be with Lady J and sees Julie as a useful partner in establishing his new business by using her up-market connections. The cast is completed by Anna Georgina, Anna is enchanting as the hardworking honourable Kirsten.
This is an excellent adaptation of a classic play, showing that the themes of sex and class are as relevant today as they were when Strindberg wrote the original play.
Review by Sally Knipe
It’s Burns Night at an elite Scottish university. Lady J, daughter of the provost and fellow at St Duncan’s College, ducks out of the formal dinner to join the raucous rituals of the domestic staff. A risqué game between her and Jock, her father’s butler, reveals a deep chasm at the heart of Lady J’s inner world, and cracks in Jock’s narcissistic armour, as his hard-working fiancé, Kirsten the housekeeper, sleeps on.
As the night progresses, the intoxicating mix of Ceilidh, single malt, poetry recitals and forbidden fruit provide the perfect conditions for the sins of the fathers (and mothers) to manifest in Strindberg’s timeless characters; culminating in a toxic union that threatens to undo the tightly held reputations and traditions embedded in the seven-hundred-year-old walls of St Dunc’s.
This translation from the Swedish by Classics Academic Lewis Webb of Merton College Oxford, with contemporary adaptation by director Christina James, provides a unique glimpse into the world’s most elite universities. The Oxford, RADA and Rose Bruford trained cast and directorial team serve up a Burns Night feast of institutional politics and classical tragedy with a contemporary edge, revealing the unconscious dynamics of sex and class to be as fundamental today as in the world of Strindberg’s masterpiece.
Lady J – Marianne James
Jock – Joshua Urquhart
Kirsten – Anna Georgina
Adaptation – Christina James
Translation – Lewis Webb
Director – Christina James
Assistant Director – Reya Muller
Producers – Anna Georgina & Marianne James
17 – 26 Nov 2023
Off Main Stage in association with Umbilicus Productions premieres
a new translation and adaptation of Strindberg’s iconic Masterpiece, Miss Julie
by Dr Lewis Webb and Christina James.