2i's Coffee Bar
Soho in the early 1960s, the 2i’s coffee bar.

A 1960s re-set of Strindberg’s ‘Miss Julie’

Miss Julie’s look
Miss Julie’s look, early 1960s Norman Hartnell.

In 2018 director Katie Read (who directed Shaun’s play Collider in Oxford in 2016) suggested a writer – director collaboration to create a new version of Strindberg’s dark and troubling classic play ‘Miss Julie’. Shaun was initially reluctant, cautious about the effect that trying to accommodate the inherent misogyny of the original into a contemporary setting would create. However, as with all good ideas (!), a period of research suggested ways to use the original text to make a new work that, while still ending tragically with the eponymous young aristocrat’s suicide, could bring new meaning and relevance to elements of the original when enacted in a fresh setting. This is now a country house outside Bristol in early May 1963.

Just like Sweden at the time the original play was written (whether Strindberg knew this or not) England in 1963 was on the cusp of change, and with this thought in mind the action of the play can be seen in a fresh light, in the context of an old world on the cusp of unwelcome change.

Christine's look
The new look that Christine has brought into the world of Miss Julie’s country house.

Thus, the wealthy, aristocratic and long-established and indeed ‘establishment’ world of Miss Julie and her ‘Cotswold set’ clashes with the ‘swinging sixties’ that are just around the corner and which are exemplified in the new version of the play by Christine, not a servant as in the original, but a Soho night club hostess who is at the country house party with her boss, Johnny the club owner who has been hired to make sure the party ‘goes with a swing’.

The clash of attitudes between the mistress and the servant figures from the original is central to the new version of the play. It is enlarged from the original with more of the action involving Christine, and it is going to be visual: the contrasting appearances of the two women is vital to the drama. Christine’s look is a Mary Quant mini dress and Vidal Sassoon bobbed hair; Miss Julie is more ‘debutante’, in a Norman Hartnell gown and high maintenance hair.

This is the first play Shaun has written where the starting points were hair styles and dresses. The mood of s specific week in May 1963 is enhanced by the use of music from ‘pop chart’ of the relevant week. In the original play, Christine is so exhausted from the drudgery of domestic duties that she sleeps through Jean’s seduction of Miss Julie; in ‘Julie and Johnny’ Christine ‘zones out’ with a joint and by listening to hits on her then radical transistor radio with ear pieces.

Perdio radio

(So, when she puts them in, the sound track we hear in the theatre cuts, then starts again when she re-joins the action and removes the ear phones! For authenticity and for a play so driven by research, her radio is a Perdio 1963 model, with earpieces!

The writing of this play is supported by research funding from the University of the West of England, where Shaun teaches creative writing part-time. An article by Shaun on his research for the play was published by the Royal Literary Fund on their website