REVIEW: “Miss Julie”, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, to May 12th.

Maxine Peake as Miss Julie and Joe Armstrong as Jean in Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Maxine Peake as Miss Julie and Joe Armstrong as Jean in Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

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SARAH Frankom’s production of Strindberg’s most notable play, “Miss Julie”, is totally engrossing for most of the time.

The acting by Maxine Peake as the beautiful but wayward aristocrat Julie is powerful, emotional and gripping. She conveys all the passion, vulnerability and mental instability of the character.

She is well supported by Joe Armstrong as Jean, her father’s valet, sexually attractive, resentful of his lower class origins and current role. As the long night of Midsummer’s Eve in 1888 in Sweden progresses, the two come together. She is confused after the break-up of her engagement. He has secretly desired her for years.

His “fiancé”, the servant Kristin (Carla Henry), views them both with a realistic scepticism. Midsummer’s Eve is, I think, an important festival in Sweden. Well, with so many long winters’ nights and such a short summer, this is a night for love and lust!

Together Julie and Jean explore their feelings, desire and dreams. I am sorry to use a joke I have used before, but this is yet another “Long Night’s Journey into Day”. There is a “Scandewegian” bleakness that is popular today, but, perhaps, the full impact of interclass relationships has dated. (Strindberg’s play caused a scandal when first produced).

Few of his other plays have been produced in recent years. I would like to acknowledge the wonderful lighting by Johanna Town. The subtle change in the great construction above this incredible venue is very effective. I am looking forward to a complete change of tone with the Royal Exchange’s next production of Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”. As my mother used to say, “from the sublime to the gorblimey!” Or vice versa! It starts on May 16th.

Box office: 0161 8339833. Website: www.royalexchange.co.uk

PIPPA MUNRO HEBDEN