Miss Julie/ Black Comedy – Review

Shaun Evans in Miss Julie. Photo Manuel Harlan.
Shaun Evans in Miss Julie. Photos Manuel Harlan.

August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, a fevered drama about sex, class and power makes a strange bedfellow with Black Comedy, a hysterical and totally absurd farce from Peter Shaffer.

But the two were joined in matrimony by Kenneth Tynan for artistic director Laurence Olivier at the dawn of Chichester Festival Theatre and seems only fitting they should be revived nearly 50 years on.

CFT is celebrating Shaffer’s work with Black Comedy, a new production of Amadeus, which opens with Rupert Everett and Joshua McGuire next week, and a series of celebrity talks and events marking the playwright’s long association with the venue.

Last night Endeavour star Shaun Evans helped himself to a posh bit of totty in the Rebecca Lenkiewicz adaptation of Miss Julie.

There are echoes of Lady Chatterley’s Lover about the story. It’s Midsummer’s Eve and the lady of the house “who’s having her time of the month” behaves like a bitch on heat.

She flirts and dances around her father’s valet, Jean (Evans), daring him to forget his position and her class. When the inevitable happens Miss Julie pretty much goes to pieces (do we care? No).

Jean is cultivated, speaks languages, is cocky, arrogant, an egotist and highly ambitious and thinks he’s a better class of person than the emotionally fragile and unloved Julie.

But the pair of them are deeply unlikeable and it’s impossible to sympathise with either. Neither are typical of their class nor behave so.

The flame-haired Rosalie Craig makes a spirited Julie who, we learn, is unloved and raised to hate men and play them at their own game (so also a touch of Copperfield’s Estella).

Evans gives us a confident Jean. It’s not surprising Julie is attracted by his simmering lust and desire.

Paul Ready and Marcia Warren  in Black Comedy. Photo Manuel Harlan

After the interval the stage at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre had undergone a complete change for Black Comedy.

In a topsy-turvy world, where light is dark and vice versa, it is illuminating to enjoy a dazzlingly funny comedy that stems from just one gag.

It opens in the pitch black (very difficult for note-taking) but the cast launch into their dialogue as though nothing is wrong.

Then the shabby chic South Ken flat, home to artist Brindsley Miller, blows a fuse and the inhabitants are plunged into light… and can’t see a thing. (Thank god. I was beginning to think we were going to be in darkness throughout!)

From there on it’s a hoot as the players – Miller, his current girlfriend “the idiot deb” Carol, ex girlfriend Clea, gay neighbour Harold, dotty old Miss Furnival and Carol’s blustering colonel father, blunder around falling over furniture and each other.

Paul Ready, as Miller, is a tireless, knockabout, physical comic who hurls himself around the set in a beautifully choreographed series of pratfalls.

The quite superb Marcia Warren, who appears to have cornered the market in mad old bints, is Miss Furnival, the daughter of a Baptist Minister who discovers a liking for gin.

Naturally the drunker she gets the more uproarious her performance.

Paul Ready, Rosalie Craig and Shaun Evans in Black Comedy

Shaun Evans is Harold and occasionally struggled to prevent himself corpsing at the antics around him while veteran actor Jonathan Coy, as Colonel Melkett, risked life and limb being felled in the mayhem.

Robyn Addison’s squeaky-voiced Carol was rather Aimi MacDonald (remember her?) with her brainless little blonde act while and Rosalie Craig made a feisty Clea.

Top marks to the theatre’s lighting crew who have to reverse the lighting situation at a moment’s notice (torch on-lights off).

It all went very slightly awry on opening night when Shaun Evans accidentally blew out his candle and had problems with his matches – I’m guessing they can expect a lot more of that throughout the run.

Two very different plays but director Jamie Glover delivers a one splendid night’s entertainment.

Running until August 9.

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