Simon Stone has done it, yet again.
From his ingenious adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Wild Duck to his faultless appropriation of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude, Simon Stone truly is a force to be reckoned with. His ability to capture the innate feelings of some of the world’s most documented and elusive characters – resurrecting them from a world of desuetude into an ever-increasing globalised realm – is astonishing.
His most-recent adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie most certainly encapsulates this talent.
Chauffer, Jean (Brendan Cowell) and his fiancé, Christine (Blazey Best), work in the home of a powerful politician in the running to become Prime Minister. While he is on the election trail, they are responsible for his precocious and defiant 16-year-old daughter, Julie (Taylor Ferguson). The catch is: Julie is far too aware of the power of her privileged position and blossoming sexuality, while Jean is too ambitious to resist the illicit temptations of power and youth.
Updating the action to present-day Sydney, Stone has preserved the central elements of Strindberg’s plot, despite placing greater emphasis on the conflicting rudiments of the social divide within western civilisations. Much like the original, it is this integral link between class and sex that drives the climactic structure of the play. However, it is the broaching of the age taboo that ups the ante. In Strindberg’s original, Julie is perceived to be 25, while Jean is described as being close to 30. In contrast, Stone’s adaptation sees Julie as a 16-year-old high-school student, and Jean as a 40-year-old chauffer. These subtle differences flourish as Stone adopts Strindberg’s foundational ideas and themes, in composing a script that adopts a new ‘Australian’ structure, without eradicating the central subjects and concerns of the original work.
The performances are spectacular, with this ensemble cast and crew delivering an outstanding interpretation of this compelling play. Brendan Cowell gives a powerhouse performance as he dodges through a range of tempers brought out by Taylor Ferguson’s exceptional stage debut as the eponymous character. At every point, she sounds Julie’s innocence, impulsiveness and contempt perfectly, as she mesmerisingly reaches a climax that draws on cinematic tropes to a bluntly terrifying effect.
It’s difficult to extract the extraordinary detail of this play without spoiling it. While all theatre can be classed as derivative, Stone’s adaptation is astonishingly good. I walked in with expectations of a relatively decent play, yet walked out with anxiety-induced goose bumps. Yes, it was that good. Although it’s been four days since I saw it, I’m still amazed at its beautiful construction. Stone’s ability to build upon such a groundbreaking play is triumphal, while his adoption of new and innovative ideas is truly astounding.
This is a play not to be missed.