Yesterday I went to the Chichester Festival Theatre see the matinee performance of the Jamie Glover-directed productions of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie – a new version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz – and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy, two one-act plays first paired together in 1965 by Chichester’s then artistic director Laurence Olivier and his literary manager Kenneth Tynan.
Sadly, for me, given Strindberg’s reputation, his work rarely lives up to its billing – the lightweight Miss Julie is a perfect case in point.
Jonathan Miller once remarked upon the quirk of life that not-quite-great literature often prompts greater televised adaptions that its first rank counterpart. No doubt at the time it was written, Miss Julie was a challenging and controversial piece.
Though Rosalie Craig as Miss Julie and Shaun Evans as Jean provide light, shade and occasional dynamism, their lack of sexual chemistry failed to convince of the powerful and uncontrollable urges that ultimately drive them to destruction.
Black Comedy is a patchily clever farce based around a classic theatrical device – the notion that darkness is light, and vice versa – with the audience in on the joke.
I enjoyed it, no doubt to a degree because of its stark contrast with Miss Julie, and would give an honourable mention to actress Marcia Warren, in the part of Miss Furnival – the stereotypical ‘prim elderly lady who inadvertently takes to the gin’ – who played her role with consummate arch-mischief and timing.
With this sort of piece, what counts in the ingenuity of the stage directions and the ‘attack’ of the actors, both individually and as a team. On these, this new Chichester production posted a score high enough to have yesterday’s audience convulsing in the aisles.
As with many south coast conurbations these days, I should estimate the average age of the Minerva’s punters in Chichester yesterday was well north of sixty – a factor that may have prompted the attendance of the two paramedics on standby in the foyer that I spotted upon my arrival.
As it happened, they played their part in the afternoon’s entertainment when, about quarter of an hour into the performance of Miss Julie, they rushed to the seat of a large, red-faced, man with dank silver hair in a velvet burgundy smoking jacket, sitting close to the front opposite me. At first I thought he had suffered a heart attack, but I learned later that he had simply fallen asleep, begun snoring, and – upon being woken and asked to desist – had become involved in a full-blown physical altercation with several fellow audience members.