After Miss Julie is a visually and intellectually sumptuous production playing at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre
After Miss Julie (Red One Theatre Collective) is, literally, the story of the twelve hours immediately following VE Day, as set in an English servants’ cottage. The end of the war was many things to many people, and three characters–a stern northern cook; an aggressive, proud chauffeur; a young noblewoman–work through these changes in their own ways. They love, they hate, they fuck, they kill, they make a mess on the carpet.
The tricky thing about this show is that, by all rights, it shouldn’t work. The script has a number of clunky lines, the symbolism runs to depths normally associated with Very Very Very Serious High School Plays, and the story turns on developments that contemporary Canadian audiences probably can’t be expected to intuit. (Audience member to her date: “Who’s Clement Atlee? Wait, who was Winston Churchill again?”)
But work it does. These talented, talented actors; this gorgeous, gorgeous set; director David Ferry’s delicate, delicate slow-burn touch.
One moment in particular sticks in my mind: watching the housemaid, Christine (Amy Keating) assemble a concoction in the Storefront’s fully-functional kitchen. It’s a five-minute sequence played at real speed–and with real boiling water–as Keating meticulously chops and sieves and stirs and mixes and bottles it up. No dialogue, no interaction with the audience, and only the gentlest touch of period-appropriate background music. Yet there we sit, entranced by this perfect performance; this perfect show.
And the performance of Claire Armstrong as Julie is, by itself, worth the price of admission. Dressed in Kendra Terpenning’s impressive costumes and dolled up in Angela McQueen’s subtle hair and makeup, Armstrong’s Julie is a lost little girl, having strayed from the garden path and wound up deep in the brambles–a circumstance which, as it turns out, is less of a fun adventure than she’d anticipated. Any actor who can play drunk in five-inch heels is clearly doing something right, and Armstrong knocks her character out of the park.
Ferry, doing double duty as set designer, fills the tiny Storefront Theatre with interesting and useful artifacts: a mostly-functioning gramophone; a gorgeous kitchen table; a practical lamp, which becomes integral to later scenes; and a telephone, which may as well be a fourth character. But his directing is where he shines best, as much a choreographer as a dramatist, especially a late-game bit with a razor which cannot be described without spoiling it.
Yes, it’s a think-piece, but don’t be put off. You’ll be charmed by the visuals, the costumes, the set, the performances. Don’t come in expecting to deconstruct everything; let the cigarette smoke swirl around you, and let the thoughts take care of themselves.
- After Miss Julie plays through November 30th, 2013 at the Storefront Theatre (955 Bloor West, near Ossington Station)
- Performances run nightly at 8 PM Tuesday to Saturday; 2 PM on Sunday.
- Tickets are $20, Tuesdays are half-price.
- Tickets can be purchased online or from the box office immediately before performances. Be advised that performances are selling out; advance purchase is strongly recommended.
- Be advised that this production includes graphic depictions of sexuality and heavy use of real cigarettes.
Photograph of Christopher Morris and Claire Armstrong by Jonas Widdifield.