Miss Julie Review

York Theatre Royal – until Saturday 26 June 2021

Reviewed by Michelle Richardson


British-Hong Kong Playwright Amy Ng adapts August Strindberg’s 1888 play, Miss Julie. Instead of Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden back in the nineteenth centre, the setting has been changed to 1940’s Hong Kong and the celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

Set in the aftermath of WWII Miss Julie, Sophie Robinson, is the spoilt, privileged, but niave, daughter of the British Governor. She gatecrashes the servant’s party downstairs in the kitchen. There are only two other characters, John, Leo Wan, the Governor’s chauffeur and his fiancée Christine, Jennifer Leong, the cook who has been with the family for years and helped raise Miss Julie.

Celebrations can be heard from outside, but inside things are heating up. Miss Julie, craving for attention, begs John to take her out on the streets, but John understand the ramifications and refuses her demands. Still, she does not let up until the inevitable conclusion, with her innocence gone.

Wan’s John is a complex character, despising his colonial master and what he stands for. He strives to better himself and will use whatever it takes to achieve that. When it becomes clear that his actions will not advance him in any way, he is brutal in his response. Robinson captures Miss Julie’s naïve persona perfectly, a child in an adult’s body wanting to push the boundaries and realising that you should be careful of what you wish for. Leong plays the amiable Christine with a quiet compassion and full of duty.

The set is atmospheric, the smell of incense in the air. Chinese lanterns and bamboo canes setting the simple, but effective, scene for the 75-minute show. The use of the Lion Dance, with spectacular dragon heads, to represent the lovemaking is inspired.

During the period of Colonial Hong Kong, the thought of any relationship with a Chinese servant and a white, advantaged woman would be taboo. Miss Julie plays on the forbidden and explores, through race and gender, where the power really lies.

This is a subtle adaptation, maybe lacking a bit of punch, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 75 minutes of performance.

Miss Julie is playing in York until Saturday 26th June as part of a small UK tour