In her first directing job since leaving the Gate Theatre, Natalie Abrahami offers a fine, unsettling revival of Patrick Marber's 2003 rewrite of Strindberg's 'Miss Julie', bringing to bear the suffocating sensuality that was her hallmark of her work at the tiny Notting Hill venue.
Set in a Labour MP's country pile in 1945, on the night of his party's landslide general election win, it follows his daughter Julie's physical and emotional entanglement with John, a family servant whose presumed engagement to the stoic Christine has been complicated by his time away fighting in the war.
Abrahami's production is well serviced by three fine actors. Natalie Dormer is outstanding as Julie: quick to locate the humour in Marber's text, she has a dazzlingly ditzy exterior. But behind the dippiness is the frosty arrogance of the trueborn aristocrat and behind that lies something darker still: a seething chasm of insanity. She performs hairpin emotional turns with disarming ease.
Kieran Bew is almost as good as John, a big man whose alpha status is constantly undermined by his lover Julie, who makes merciless use of his emotional vulnerability and ineradicable sense of class deference. As the drudgey Christine, Polly Frame has the least to do but holds her own, particularly in a wordless scene where she becomes groggily aware of John's betrayal to the sound of Carolyn Downing's unnerving washes of ambient noise.
If the trio seem doomed from the off, it's the tautness of Abrahami's production and the nerve jangling sense of in-the-moment unpredictability Dormer and Bew bring to their roles that make it such a gripping 90 minutes.
A Pinteresque study of a three-way emotional power struggle, its political undertones remain more than intact, an unsettling vision of a British ruling and working class locked together in a hold that is part embrace, part deathgrip.