The Magic Rabbit Has Left the Building

Miss Julie Thomas Aurin

The Barbican, true to form, dared to bring over this very ambitious reworking of an old classic by Schaubuehne Berlin, who like to think of themselves as the most modern theatre company in Germany.

And German theatre prides itself on being 'modern', whatever that may be. And it can afford to be modern, as it is still heavily subsidised, so they can wait till the audience is ready for them. As Obermaier, the new director said, "We had to empty the theater to get our new audience."

So no one was expecting a faithful reproduction of Strindberg's text of Miss Julie. After all, they had changed the ending of Dolls House totally, to where the doll becomes a murderer!

So we expected Katie Mitchel to play with the text, but did we expect to see it reduced to just one person’s perspective of the play? Isn’t the art of the playright in giving a multiperspectival composition of life?

Director Katie Mitchel also loves the dark. Not just the dark night of the soul, the actual dark, and no light sort of dark. So it was actually quite hard to see what was going on. The confusion of three stages, a multitude of crew dashing around the stages with cameras, and then the dark is not a good one. This is obviously easier for the flicker generation, who might be bored by a development process, where a character becomes interesting in his/her variant possibilities over a while, not a flicker of a moment. So we see Kristin suffering for her love, and loving a cruel, uninteresting Jean. Miss Julie is presented equally one-dimensionally, an arrogant spoilt rich girl who crumbles on impact by her feeling for Jean (which are not explored at all). Love/sex/obsession? No idea after this production.

There were beautiful moments, however. The lighting department deserves most of the praise for delivering a glowing Vermeer-like tableaux projected on large screen in luminous, golden light. But the question kept coming to me: Why not make a film instead?

So maybe Mitchell is exploring the genre 'theater'. But what is it that makes theater? And is it different from film? This has been the process in continental theater for a while, with varying result for the viewer. Personally, I like to have the classical theater principles applied subtly; I want to be mesmerized, like Peter Hall still does, and Peter Stein did for years at the Schaubuehne. I want to feel a kind of catharsis, feel my way through the human dilemmas that are part of Life. So for me, the Othello at the National Theater, in a modern production by Nicholas Hytner, fulfills these criteria amply. I got involved, cared for the characters and their lives, and saw myself too. Great, powerfully subtle acting. Adrian Lester, Rory Kinnear, need I say more? That helps me more to go on this journey than people hurrying around the stage with cameras and showcasing their skills in effects. That breaks the magic for me; I truly become alienated from the process.

Brecht has been dead for many moons; long live Hytner!