Fräulein Julie

© Thomas Aurin
Barbican Centre, Barbican Saturday May 4 2013 19:45

This review is from a perfomance in Paris in March

If ‘Mies Julie’ – the searing South African reworking of Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’ – is all sex and violence, then this German adaptation from auteur English director Katie Mitchell comes straight from the cerebellum. Yet that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

‘Fräulein Julie’ is a production that takes Mitchell and co-director Leo Warner’s use of live camera work to the nth degree, a staging of such constantly startling virtuosity it amounts to a non-stop 75-minute coup de théâtre. On a screen above the stage, we watch a perfect period drama play out, complete with close-ups, cutaways, lighting effects and haunting music.

And underneath it, the entire show is being created in real time, body doubling, Foley work, camera operators and musicians combining in a ballet of such astounding precision that it threatens to completely upstage the flashier spectacle on the screen.

The title ‘Fräulein Julie’ is deceptive: Luise Wolfram’s ghostlike aristocrat Julie is a peripheral presence, and her servant lover Jean (Tilman Strauß) scarcely less so. Instead, we are plunged into the thankless world of Jean’s cook wife Kristin (a wonderful, pitiable Jule Böwe) as she dutifully toils away in the scullery, her heart slowly breaking as she catches odd glimpses of her feckless husband carrying on with the mistress.

To see her agonised face on film is powerful enough: sobbing into the washing-up bowl, dissolving into a pool of water or peering miserably through a rain-spattered window.

But there’s something more to the action below than simple frisson at the accomplishment. The necessarily absolute precision of Böwe’s movements, coupled with the fact there is usually a camera operator directly in front of her, is unexpectedly affecting: both actor and character are locked into a pattern that they can’t leave – in Böwe’s case, for 75 minutes, in Kristin’s case, forever.

‘Fräulein Julie’ is a technical accomplishment first and foremost, but it is, nonetheless, quite extraordinarily soulful. Bemusing as it is to note that the two best shows in London this week are both adaptations of Strindberg’s flawed 1888 shocker, that’s pretty much the size of it. Andrzej Lukowski

Venue name: Barbican Centre
Contact:
Address: Silk St
London
EC2Y 8DS
Opening hours: Centre Mon-Sat 9am-11pm; Sun noon-11pm. Art Gallery Mon, Tue, Wed, Sat, Sun 10am-6pm; Thu, Fri 10am–9pm. The Curve Mon, Tue, Wed, Sat, Sun 11am–8pm; Thu, Fri 11am–9pm
Transport: Tube: Barbican
Price: £16-£42