Famous Last Words. Goodwood Theatre and Studios. 20 Apr 2023
This world premiere is an exceptional piece of theatre not to be missed!
The original Miss Julie was written by Swede August Strindberg in 1888. The play has always been controversial with feminists because Miss Julie is a bit off her game and her creator attributes this in part to “the excitement of dancing,…the strongly aphrodisiac influence of flowers,... and her monthly indisposition.” Writing After Strindberg’s is a bit of an industry (Patrick Marber, Polly Stenham, Simon Stone) and it was even a dance in a 1958 German production. And now James Watson.
Local playwright, director and producer James Watson has stripped away the blah-blah and the rubbishy reasoning and created a taut, tense and terrifying 75 minutes absolutely focusing on the love triangle and setting it in our time. He has taken an old fossil, recovered the useful DNA and conjured up a new creature that is thoroughly modern and relevant.
Miss Julie is the alluring discombobulated daughter of a wealthy man sinking in a sea of privilege and meaninglessness. Daddy’s PA, Jean, is a handsome dreamer and his wife, Kristine, has befriended Julie out of pity. We first see the girls partying and later Jean arrives. Dangerously, Julie and Jean spend the wee hours awake and alone until the light of dawn when the shit really hits the fan. And thus we have a pulchritudinous love triangle.
Watson has written a fitting adaptation to our times. Circumstances aren’t stated but drip-fed through action. Dance music, mobile phones, drinking games, and ultra-authentic chit chat hitch a ride on the narrative arc. The creative team convey the rhythms and rankles of young adults trying to find their way with frightening verisimilitude.
The performances are fantastic. They are so fantastic I was embarrassed as an eavesdropper witnessing the intimacy. Pauses, glances, worried looks, and askances convey as much as the dialogue. Kate Owen (Julie), Emelia Williams (Kristine) and Christian Bartlett (Jean) and Watson are all graduates of Flinders Drama Centre, and Watson and William’s Famous Last Words theatre company reminds me of the Flinders graduates who performed amazing work at the now defunct Bakehouse Theatre back in the 80s. The ending could have been more satisfying. It looked like everybody just gave up and went their separate ways.
Watson didn’t mind utilising the female body types to convey motivation. Owen as Miss Julie is indeed a siren beckoning her sailor to the rocks. Her mad enthusiasm is infectious and dangerous and the anticipated train wreck is excruciating to behold. The tension never lets up. Jean and Kristine are battlers and respectful of earned money; Jean wants to live the American dream and Julie sees her saviour through coke-stained eyes. Julie and Jean’s longing for escape are a perfect storm. To get there, Watson and his actors convey frequent changes of status and its an audience’s guessing game where it’s going, unless of course, you already know, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be fascinated and horrified by the predicament so realistically portrayed - it could be you.
When: 18 to 29 Apr
Where: Goodwood Theatre and Studios