Durham-based Elysium Theatre Company are bringing their new production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie to the Gala Theatre this weekend. Aadira Parakkat speaks to director Jake Murray about his designs for the production and what the company are achieving in the North East.

August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie explores the complex frameworks and politics of class and gender, and stands as one of the first instances of empathetic representations of the working class in mainstream theatre. On Saturday 23rd March, Elysium Theatre Company will be performing in the Gala Theatre to tell this story that, as director Jake Murray says, in the light of the last decade is “perhaps more important than ever”. Recontextualised in North East England from Strindberg’s original Swedish setting, the play narrates the star-crossed romance of a Count’s daughter and the household valet and the ensuing interplay of class and gender politics, and promises to keep the audience at the edge of their seats.

Murray’s production of Strindberg’s naturalistic play, translated by Michael Meyer, sets it in the same time period but against the background of the Redhills and the North East English society in the 19thcentury; it therefore remains honest to the original script but situates it in a more familiar setting that hints at the class conflicts that shape the world around us today. Murray was inspired to implement this setting after a visit to Redhills building and learning about its vital role in the evolution of the Labour Movement and embedded history of class disparity within its structure. Currently owned by the Durham Miner’s Association, the property is currently the subject of a project by Nick Malyan and Carlo Viglianisi of Empty Shop to give it the recognition it deserves. This makes Elysium Theatre Company’s production of Miss Julie one that breathes in the heart and soul of Durham itself. In fact, Murray’s team originally planned to do a site-specific production of the play, a plan which then expanded to a tour of the North East, performing in
locations including Queen’s Hall in Hexham and The Exchange in North Shields.

As a Durham-based company that grew from the small stage to move on to much larger audiences, Elysium Theatre Company’s performance in the Gala Theatre holds a special significance. The group is made up of several students from the DST, including its assistant director and composer. The company has a symbiotic relationship with the University, yielding opportunities for experience for its thespians-in-progress and receiving help from the English Department and Assembly Rooms Theatre. Its first-time performance in the Gala on a much larger stage is going to be an opportunity to address an audience much larger than they’ve done before, and it promises to be interesting to see how they preserve the nuances that their previous venues allowed them to focus on more easily. Those who attend may have the lucky opportunity to interact with the Servants Ensemble before the show, which will be an interesting way to bridge the gap between audience and the characters and achieve the same attachment that a smaller venue would provide.

As a whole, the play and Murray’s direction of it is fueled by the group’s collective energy to tell a story of passion and political importance; in the light of #MeToo, austerity and Brexit, our society seems more fractured than ever, and in a lot of ways, we seem to be falling into old habits. Therefore, while the play acts as a periscope to the world of our ancestors, it also promises to be a periscope examining our internal selves, and the structures that we are yet to demolish to give way for harmonious coexistence. Elysium Theatre Company’s show in Hexham left the audience glued to their seats discussing the events and implications of the play long after it ended, and the team intends to replicate that impact with their run in Durham as well. Even if you aren’t familiar with Strindberg’s work, it is almost certain that the play will leave its effect on you. The theatre company’s main aim is for the play to touch and move audiences and, as Murray says, “make them buzz with excitement” and leave them “stunned by its modernity”. Ultimately, the play promises to astound you, transfix you, and surprise you, and Elysium Theatre Company have a successful track record of doing just that. In short, this is not a play to miss.

 

Miss Julie will be playing at the following venues: Gala Theatre, Durham (23rd March); The Exchange, North Shields (28th-30th March); Majestic Theatre, Darlington (3rd-4th April).

Photographs: Ed Rees Photography.