Patrick Marber’s version of Strindberg’s Swedish play, Miss Julie, is set in the immediate aftermath of Labour’s post-war UK election landslide and in a wealthy Labour peer’s household.
So far so good. The class divide at the original play’s heart remains plain enough.
The problem in Michael Cabot’s London Classic Theatre production, given a single Portsmouth performance, is that the essential sexual tension is in short supply.
The weakness is in Andy Dowbiggin’s sometimes gabbled performance as the servant, John, for whom Miss Julie reveals her lust.
He specifically lacks the insolence to fire her up, and more generally cannot catch the complexity of characterisation in Marber’s writing.
By contrast Kathryn Ritchie in the title role is dangerous from the moment she arrives ‘downstairs’ with strutting certainty and chiselled words, and dangles one leg teasingly over the other.
She is self-dramatising in both triumph and defeat, and that leads to the best of the play’s few comic exchanges.
‘Remember your position,’ Julie tells the servant. ‘Which one?’ he replies drily. ‘There were so many.’
The cast is completed by Helen Barford as Christine, the woman who has waited throughout the war and after it to marry John.
The role is mostly lower-key but the actress plays it with sensitive distinction.