Nearly 50 years ago Laurence Olivier, along with his Literary Manager, the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, announced a double-bill for their forthcoming season at Chichester Festival Theatre. Mixing a powerful dramatic piece with a lighter option, a “short comedy, still to be chosen”, in point of fact a short comedy that hadn’t even been written at the time. Now they return to the same two short plays.
Miss Julie takes Strindberg’s classic pre-Lady Chatterley look at sexual encounters and gives it a slightly odd, but also somehow fitting Yorkshire spin courtesy of this new adaptation from Rebecca Lenciewicz. Shaun Evansas Jean is dashing, sophisticated and also a servant engaged to the cook. Somehow though he seduces, or is seduced by, his mistress.
Rosalie Craig plays the titular character, one minute naïve and innocent and the next dripping with sex appeal as she lurches from one emotion to another, exploring what to do with their taboo relationship. The piece takes place in the kitchen over midsummer’s eve and the following morning. The young mistress of the house, overcome with the festive nature of the evening dances with the staff, including the footman to whom she is clearly attracted. He in turn senses an opportunity to better himself via her means. The dynamic plays out with each in turn dominating the other with their station and ideas. It’s easy to see why a servant would fall for Craig’s Julie, she’s vivacious and dazzling. Evans’ Jean on the other hand is the dourest of Yorkshire-men and for all his eloquence it’s sometimes difficult to believe Julie would ever be enraptured by him.The third side of their triangle comes in the form of pious and humble cook Kirsten. Emma Handy gives her a strident belief in both her station in life and that her god will see right by her, even if her fiancée will not. Aside from a slightly jarring moment when the est of the staff appear singing and dancing and shatter the intensity of the moment, this is an almost mesmeric piece and Craig’s performance the centre point of it.
Black Comedy could not be more different. The Peter Shaffer farce is set in a house with no electricity and achieves its humour by opening in complete darkness, the set becoming bathed in light when the power goes out. Paul Ready takes the lead as humour ensues. His fiancée and her priggish father, a long-time girlfriend, the neighbours and a German millionaire combine for slapstick and sight gags that leave the audience in fits of laughter. Once again though Craig steals the show, relishing the difference in characters between the two plays!
As actors feel their way around in the “darkness” artist Brindsley (Ready) sees his world unravel. His wife-to-be Carol, immensely proud of the fact that a reclusive art collecter is coming to view and buy his work has chosen the same night to introduce him to her “daddy-kins”, Robyn Addison gives the cooing airhead a vacuous air that is nonetheless somewhat charming and markedly different to the lithe, sophisticated Clea (Craig). Carol’s father is played with blustering relish by Jonathan Coy and the cast of misfits grows to include the sweet old lady from upstairs Miss Furnival, a wonderful performance from Marcia Warren, Shaun Evans as Brindsley’s camp but classy neighbour Harold, Last of the Summer Wine veteran Mike Grady as the man from the electric board and eventually Samuel Dutton as mysterious millionaire Bamburger. There are a couple of slight niggles, not least when a candle goes out without warning, stopping Evans in his tracks, but these serve to bring the audience into the piece rather than exclude them from it.
This then, is an odd pair, but like the plot of just about every Neil Simon play, this disjointed couple work surprisingly well together!