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Review: Mademoiselle Julie

Monday 08 October 2012
Words Spindle

Subtitled theatre makes me nervous. During Brighton Festival this year, I saw a production in French and Flemish, with subtitles that were never quite in time with the action. This might not be a terribly big deal to some people, but I found it destroyed dramatic tension and made the play at times farcical – never more so than when the dramatic final word, ‘non’, was uttered, followed 5 seconds later by a subtitles that simply read ‘no’. So it was with some trepidation that I went to see Frédéric Fisbach’s French-language production of Mademoiselle Julie at The Barbican.

I need not have worried. Juliette Binoche dazzled as the titular Julie, the free-spirited daughter of a Count whose mental state evolves from precocious to precarious over the course of the narrative. For those unfamiliar with Strindberg’s tale, the drama unfolds over the course of midsummer night, as class barriers lower and Julie and her father’s footman seduce one another, with disasters consequences. And though the language barrier prevented some of the star-gazing often associated with seeing a well-known actor on the stage, this was not to the production’s detriment. Indeed, this hurdle is embraced by the production. As the play begins, the croon takes place behind a wall of glass, the audience peering through the windows of a house. Binoche’s entrance is discreet and almost unnoticed. Behind a screen, and speaking through a radio mic with subtitles scrolling above her head, the experience was more cinematic than theatric. But as she opens the sliding door between her and the audience, Binoche is suddenly presented in the flesh and the effect is one of the most finessed theatrical experiences I have ever had.

Mademoiselle Julie has been subject to some pretty harsh reviews, which mostly attack the production’s ‘Frenchness’. I cannot think of a more arbitrary complaint to make.

Word: Jack Casey