Tuesday, 23 June 2009
A Midsummer Night's Play
I seldom read drama anymore, not so much out of choice but impetus. I have a huge collection of plays however and love the work of so many playwrights including David Mamet, Marina Carr, Martin McDonagh, Brian Friel, Ann Marie di Mambro, Shakespeare... The last play I read (and the only one reviewed) was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, which I enjoyed. I intend to make a point of reading more drama.
I thought it would be apt to read a play famously set on Midsummer's Night (and yet not the one you think) on ... Midsummer's Night. I can barely recall why there is a copy of Miss Julie by August Strindberg on my drama shelf (I told you I have a number of plays) other than it being a recommendation from a Professor but there is and I hadn't read it until now.
Strindberg was a Swedish playwright (my copy is translated by Kenneth McLeish) who was a contemporary and competitor of Henrik Ibsen, with whose work this play shares similarities. Miss Julie is a naturalistic tragedy and is is rather brutal, savage even. In a coincidental thematic comparison to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, which I am currently reading, it centres around Miss Julie (a lady) who is fraternising with the help and concerns class tensions between the ruling and serving classes. There is much resentment//snobbery/aspiration/power play between Miss Julie and the footman Jean; ultimately it is a battle between the classes and the sexes with Kristin, the cook, who respects her "betters" and acts as foil to Jean. Miss Julie and Jean begin dancing with one another at the servant's Midsummer Night's ball, flirting back and forth, acheiving and relinquishing the upper hand, seducing one another then consumating their love/lust, abusing and bullying one another, before devolving into a man and woman in mutual despair looking for escape.
The tragedy of this play is effective as is the power struggle between Miss Julie and Jean; both are emotionally charged and ultimately their battle for power is fruitless as they are powerless in the face of Miss Julie's father and Jean's employer, His Lordship, who does not appear as a character but whose control is sensed. Definitely recommended; I hope to see it performed one day.