'Miss Julie', Swedish playwright August Strindberg's claustrophobic sex-war drama, is a versatile little creature. In Edinburgh this year, his tale about the lady of the manor slumming it with one of daddy's servants became a post-apartheid parable in South African production 'Mies Julie'. And now in Frédéric Fisbach's French-language production (with English surtitles), film star Juliette Binoche presents the stand-off as an excavation of sexual and social servitude between today's super-rich and their staff.
It's an experiment that's not entirely successful. The story hails from the clear top-down social order of Sweden in 1888. No matter how hypocritical liberal meritocracies can be today, lines such as 'a man owes a woman he has shamed' no longer resonate in white middle-class society. Laurent P Berger's set design looks like a hipster gallery: it's hard to imagine nineteenth-century mores running rife among today's hedonistic art brigade.
At 48 Binoche is also too old for Julie - a part that needs the vulnerability of a younger actress to raise the stakes. And yet inside the stunning gold sequined dress deisgned by Alber Elbaz and beneath the drama of her chaotic hair, she is capable of acting half her age, if not her (UK) shoe size. She seems fed up with being a femme fatale, and reverts convincingly to childish rage – especially around her ill-fated pet budgerigar.
What she sees in Nicolas Bouchaud's Jean is less clear. He is a tall, thin, vaguely bohemian butler with wild 'Laurel and Hardy' hair – a long way from the usual magnetic bit of rough. He does however bring a bracing intelligence to the role and once he's got Binoche at his mercy, his pronouncement, 'now you know how it feels', has a chilling air. But the best is from Benedicte Cerutti as Jean's fiercely self-possessed fiancé putting the warring lovers in their place. Not wholly compelling, then, but interesting just the same.
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The emotional outbursts make perfect sense - but only if the 2 main characters are clearly getting more and more hammered as the evening progresses, with the random emotional overspill that can accompany the condition! A nice counterpoise from the exhausted but painfully sober chef then fits much better into the plot. Oh - and an intermission would have been great too. Sadly I guess they knew they would lose half the audience...