Reflections on FAB-Productions’ “Miss Julie” 2014 Opening Night

Trinidad Guardian

Trinidad Guardian

On Thursday 18 December, 2014 Cipriani College’s CLR James Auditorium housed the opening of FAB-Productions‘ first production of “Miss Julie“, written by August Strindberg in (1888). It was Directed by Errol Sitahal, Co-Directed by Aryana Mohammed and Produced by Farrukh Altaf Barlas. Rebecca Foster played “Miss Julie”, Vedesh Nath played “Jean”, Tishanna Williams played Christine and Renee King played “Clara”.

“The play follows the relationship between Miss Julie a noble-woman and her young servant, Jean, on Christmas Eve night. Miss Julie has just broken off her engagement to her fiance, and is drawn to Jean’s charm. She flirts with Jean in front of his fiance, Christine, and Jean in turn encourages Miss Julie and flirts back.

Their relationship escalates when Jean pretends to be in love with Miss Julie, and persuades her to run away as it is the only way they can escape their dark pasts and even darker realities. But how far can they run before the darkness consumes them?” (FAB-Productions)

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I enjoyed the performance, though it could have done without the lighting design; I did not like the set design either, but only because it felt disconnected from the set properties and the performance of the play; some of the acting and stage movement confused me because they lacked the character(s) intent; the attempts at adapting the language was not to my liking, because it felt “out of place” and disconnected from the characters. On the other hand, I thought FAB-Productions’ synopsis of Miss Julie intriguing and its tagline “A Lust Story” quite attractive. So I am pleased to have seen these things become manifest during the performance. It was not a bad performance, but it still needs work. I am not sure how to write about things I like, so this reflection/ review would focus on things I believe could/should be improved.

Firstly, I am always a bit cautious in approaching adapted plays for two reasons: (i) I do not believe that it is necessary to localize a play simply to update or make it more relevant to an audience (because your audience would be able to appreciate the work for what it is. If you do not think they would, then you should produce another play). (ii) A COMPLETE understanding of the essence of the text is necessary to adequately execute such an exercise and this is no easy task, if it is possible to achieve. A good example of an adapted work done well is Romeo + Juliet (1996) and yet the critic Roger Ebert saw it as a bad idea even IMBD rated it as a meager 6.9. So I usually advise against such dabbling.

 “The desperation with which it tries to “update” the play and make it “relevant” is greatly depressing. In one grand but doomed gesture, writer-director Baz Luhrmann has made a film that (a) will dismay any lover of Shakespeare, and (b) bore anyone lured into the theater by promise of gang wars, MTV-style. This production was a very bad idea.” (Roger Ebert)

Despite Ebert’s harsh review of the Romeo + Juliet (2009) adaptation, I would not say that adaptations should be taboo. I would even say that FAB-Productions’ “Miss Julie” is a “fair-to-good” attempt at such an exercise. However, an alternative to the usual approach of sporadically interfering with the elements of drama (Plot, Theme, Characters, Dialogue, Music/Rhythm, Spectacle) to adapt a play could be: in addition to a local set design; personal/set properties etcetera, the iambic metre of the local language could be applied to the usage of the original text, instead of forcing local jargon and culture intermittently onto the existing text (A Derek Walcott suggestion-N.B. What the Twilight Says 1998).

Secondly, the lighting design did very little for me aesthetically.  Furthermore, the attempts at setting the mood with limited fixtures (that they were unable to rig themselves due to restrictions of the space) failed. The lighting design seemed to attempt camera close-ups and transitions into movie-like thought bubbles (which the audience never saw).  Therefore, more attention should be placed on the technical aspects of the performance in future performances. “Miss Julie” is a naturalistic play (This  type of play examines its characters as ‘human organisms’; surroundings are described in detail and realistically depicted, emphasising the physiological effects of environment upon characters; Characters are driven primarily by natural urges and instincts…) so stretching outside the realm of realistic lighting is probably counterproductive. Exploration of area lighting or a simple whitewash would have been sufficient.

Miss Julie and Jean

Rebecca Foster and Vedesh Nath on Set

Thirdly, keeping in mind Strindberg’s naturalistic philosophy, the use of an abstract set design to reflect the chaotic emotions of Miss Julie and Christine’s “Christian” standpoint by using chaotic brush strokes on the flats and a very visible ‘cross’ just over Christine’s bedroom door, was unnecessary or contradictory to the playwright’s intentions.

Furthermore, the performance style, the costuming, and the personal and set properties were realistic so this set design did not fit neatly. Someone who is not familiar with the script would interpret it as a dirty wall (which when speaking to other patrons proved to be the case).

Fourthly, I thought a portion of the actors’ movement on stage was unnecessary. I understand the use of distance to create or stimulate tension, but it was difficult to believe that characters would randomly walk to the other side of the stage during ‘confrontational’ dialogue. Even if the blocking given by the director is to create distance or move to specific points on the stage, then it is the actor’s duty to find the character’s motivation to do so and to make said motivations accessible to the audience.

Additionally, for her first stage performance Rebecca Foster delivered a commendable presentation, especially since I learnt that she was battling chick v during the performance. Excuses aside, there were times that her dialogue was inaudible, and I was not always sure that she understood all the moments that she played. Additionally, “Miss Julie” and “Jean” lacked chemistry for the majority of the performance and the sexual tension was not always believable. There were times  that the action on stage seemed forced, which was exacerbated by the sporadic use of local jargon and speech patterns.

Having spoken enough about my dislike for the use of language, I would now focus on other aspects of the performance (keeping in mind that the inconsistency of the use of language bothered me throughout the play). “Jean” played by Vedesh Nath maintained a monotonic speech pattern for the entire performance with the only variation coming via changes in volume, and the speed of delivery of his lines. I hope in future performances he would explore the use of tones and intentions/motivations for his dialogue and stage movement since his interaction with “Miss Julie” and “Christine” and theirs with him looked forced at times. Maybe work-shopping with characterization, trust and chemistry building exercises would help improve these forced moments.

Tishanna Williams

Tishanna Williams

I thought “Clara” played by Renee King was good, I enjoyed her performance though I’m struggling to understand the necessity of her presence other than  for comic relief since the audience and Christine were both made aware of Jean and Miss Julie’s affair by other means. I may have to revisit the script to discover this. However, I can’t say that I have any advice for her. Tishanna Williams played “Christine” well, she brought life and energy to the play at moments when I was beginning to lose interest. She had a few forced moments when interacting with “Jean”, but these moments did not trouble me for long.

Finally, the total theatrical experience is one that must be examined from the moment you enter the doors and are greeted by the front-of-house personnel/arrangements. Therefore, it is necessary to mention the extremely pleasant ushers and the simple yet beautifully constructed front of house area. The evening was formal/ semi-formal in nature, whether this is pro or con I cannot say. Furthermore, the production carried with it a very exclusive aura, it seemed as if a “certain” type of audience was/is expected due to the price of the ticket and the “Please observe the following rules to ensure an uninterrupted performance” section of the ticket.

I enjoyed the performance and hope to see it improved and run from ‘moment to moment’ more efficiently. I had no love for the set and lighting design, but held no opposition towards the choices made for personal and set properties. However, I would like to see the actors do more work on building their characters’ relationships and understanding their characters’ intentions and motivations for every moment rather than most moments. Congratulations to the team! Continue to work and improve your product!

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NB:

TICKET OUTLETS:

Xtra Foods, Grand Bazar, Chaguanas, Arima.
Apsara Resturant, Port of spain (623-7659)
Tandoori hut, Trincity Mall (640-8020)
Pooja Bhavan Ltd, Watts Street, Curepe & Eleanore Street, Chaguanas (663-6084/672-4423)
Alextronics Arima (667-0724)
Bhagan’s Drug Store, Price Plaza, Chaguanas (672-9514)
Cleve’s, Frederick Street, Port of Spain (624-0827)
Bluestar Drugs, Movietowne (623-0542)
Mandy’s Trincity Mall (640-5553)
Massy Stores Gulf View (657-0721)
Jabili Rahway, 140 eastern main road, Tunapuna (663-7477)

SHOWTIMES:

Thursday 18th Dec. – 8.00pm
Friday 19th Dec. – 8.00pm
Saturday 20th Dec. – 3.00pm
Saturday 20th Dec. – 8.00pm
Sunday 21st Dec. – 3.00pm
Sunday 21st December – 6.30pm

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