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Archive for September, 2012

I’ve never walked out of a theatre before.  (I’ve wanted to actually only a couple of times, but a rather British politeness prevailed.)  On this occasion, I walked out on Juliette Binoche, because the production of Mademoiselle Julie in which she was starring was the worst play I’ve ever seen.

When Strindberg wrote Miss Julie at the end of the 19th century, the story of a relationship between a landowner’s daughter and her father’s servant broke class as well as sexual taboos.  Transposing the story to the present day dissipates the transgression, unless an adept writer/director can find something new to say.  Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie famously managed to capture another moment of upheaval in the world order, and the unbearably visceral South African version Mies Julie by Yael Farber had plenty to say about race in post-apartheid South Africa.

Frédéric Fisbach’s Mademoiselle Julie starring Binoche and Nicolas Bouchaud brought the story into the present day, but gave the story nothing new.  The setting is a sleek modern kitchen, and when the action begins Jean and Kristin could easily be the owners.  When Julie enters, there is little sense of separation between their two worlds, and the power play between the lovers is so muted as to be almost moot.  These are a pair for whom nothing is at risk.  Binoche and Bouchard are too old for these parts; when Jean tells Julie (a wealthy forty0something year old woman) about the beauty of the Italian lakes, and she says wistfully “I’ve never been there”, it is risible rather than poignant.  Strindberg’s Miss Julie has nothing of her own, she is her father’s possession, and John has nothing because he is a servant.  In Fisbach’s adaptation credibility is stretched to breaking point to make the audience believe that this sophisticated middle-aged woman has no means of either accessing or earning her own money, and that Jean is trapped by his own obeisance and lack of job prospects.

If a modern adaptation can no longer deal comfortably with the class and sexual transgression of the original, it could focus on Julie’s psychological disintegration.  But to do that would require a script that has depth, and a staging that has resonance.  This was a self-satisfied, flaccid affair that insulted the audience with its view that a lifestyle-magazine beautiful staging and beautiful well-known lead actress would stand in stead of any insight or passion.

Perhaps the only thing salvaged from the evening was that my admiration for Binoche’s films has not been negated, and the hope that this will be the last time I walk out on her work.

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