“A qui la faute”
Lyn Gardner recently wrote an interesting piece in the Guardian theatre blog about her desire to see more British directors taking a radical approach to classic plays. She used as her prime example for them to take inspiration from as Benedict Andrews’ modern take on Three Sisters at the Young Vic which has been by and large rapturously received, whilst I found it a highly problematic interpretation. And ever the contrarian, I was surprised to find that the critical reception for Mademoiselle Julie – whose run at the Barbican has just finished – was decidedly lukewarm, given that I thought it was excellent. Between directorial innovations, re-readings of the texts and the behaviours of our own critics, it strikes me that there’s something odd about such a dichotomy.
I ought to begin by confessing my complete love for Juliette Binoche. Way back last year when this was first announced (along with Cate Blanchett, that was a good day!), I didn’t hesitate to fork out considerably more money that I am used to in order to get some great stalls seats and it was well worth it, for me at least, and not just because of the thrill of seeing Binoche acting in her mother tongue. Frédéric Fisbach’s production was first seen at the 2011 Festival d’Avignon and re-stages Strindberg's play in the coolly modernist setting of a swanky penthouse, superbly designed by Laurent P Berger. Terje Sinding has translated the text into French but without updating it, so there are undoubtedly moments where a literal reading of the words creates tension – the nineteenth century references at odds with this contemporary world – the questions of gender hypocrisy, the transience of sexual desire as the basis for relationships and the potentially transformative power of love remain at the heart of the play.