Ipswich: Lust, class conflicts and broken boundaries at New Wolsey

Felicity Rhys as Miss Julie in UK Touring Theatre's production of Miss Julie

Felicity Rhys as Miss Julie in UK Touring Theatre's production of Miss Julie - Credit: Archant

It’s Midsummer’s Eve, Sweden, 1888 and a harmless flirtation between an aristocrat and her father’s valet is about to spiral into a ferocious battle of the sexes from which neither can escape.

Felicity Rhys as Miss Julie in UK Touring Theatre's production of Miss Julie

Felicity Rhys as Miss Julie in UK Touring Theatre's production of Miss Julie - Credit: Archant

A new English translation of Miss Julie by August Strindberg, a tale of lust, class conflict and boundaries broken, gots its world premiere at Ipswich’s New Wolsey last night.

Widely regarded as his masterpiece, it was banned in the UK for 50 years; shocking critics across Europe with its frank portrayal of inter-class relationships in 19th century society.

“It was banned until 1939. (People) are not as shocked by the relationship between a servant and an upper class lady now, but the relationship between them is quite tempestuous; the way Jean (the vale) treats her is quite shocking, quite brutal... For a modern audience to be stuck there for 90 minutes with no interval and see this relationship explode...,” says Felicity Rhys, UK Touring Theatre’s artistic director and producer, who plays Miss Julie.

“Some say Strindberg was a misogynist; which he was in many ways - he was against women’s lib and that sort of thing. The play is quite misogynistic, although I think the focus is more on the (subject of) class, he was the son of a servant himself and the bitterness he had towards the upper classes comes out.


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“On the other hand, what’s quite astounding is he’s written one of the best parts for a woman ever; people say it’s the female Hamlet.”

It took eight months to translate the play word for word from the original Swedish script and work with the actors on the text; making it exciting, dynamic and accessible for modern audiences.

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“It was quite exciting. We’ve tried to get the real sense of what Strindberg originally wanted and how he affected his audience at the time. A lot of the translations we read when we were doing the prep were written 50 years ago so they were quite stilted like an English period piece in a way.

“We found a few lines in the script that were cut from every other English version and we’ve put those back in, a lot of stuff about women’s liberation. We wanted to get the real Scandinavian feel to it, the Scandinavians are a lot more open than the British who have this stiff upper lip thing going on. So I think our translation is more kind of direct, much harder.”

It’s on at the New Wolsey tonight and visits Braintree Arts Theatre, Braintree and Great Dunmow from May 3-4.

For more entertainment and events news follow me @WhatsonWayne on Twitter.

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