ON the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, celebrations are in full swing when Julie, daughter of the island’s British governor, crashes the servants’ party downstairs.
What starts as a game descends into a fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night in the Pearl River Delta in British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s once-banned Swedish play.
On the eve of New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s new tour opening at York Theatre Royal, Amy takes part in a quickfire question-and-answer session.
How does it feel to be able to bring Miss Julie back to live audiences, from tomorrow at York Theatre Royal?
“Amazing. Hopeful. Anxiety-inducing. Hostage to Covid-variants.”
Why did you choose to transfer Strindberg’s 19th century play to 1940s’ Hong Kong, and what does it add to the story?
“The initial idea to adapt Miss Julieto Hong Kong came from Alex Clifton, artistic director of Chester Storyhouse. He envisioned a contemporary Miss Julie that could comment directly on the political situation in Hong Kong now, caught between its British colonial past and the realities of rule by Beijing.
“On reflection, I felt that a contemporary adaptation of Miss Juliewas not possible as the social taboos surrounding sexual relationships across class and race are simply not as strong now as they were in the past.
“I thought that the set-up of two servants versus an aristocrat was full of potential — if we made the two servants Chinese and the aristocratic lady a daughter of the British colonial elite in Hong Kong. I picked the late 1940s because this was the time when social structures and racial hierarchies started to quake. The British colonial masters had lost prestige and respect after their defeat in Hong Kong by the Japanese, and things were never quite the same even after they resumed power after the war.”
What does the transposition to Hong Kong add to the story?
“Obviously transposing the story to Hong Kong allowed me to explore racial relations and colonialism, which are themes completely absent from the original Strindberg play. It also allowed me to counter the misogyny in the Strindberg version by building up the character of Christine, envisioning her as a member of the sisterhood of domestic servants (“sor hei”), who chose celibacy to retain their freedom in a patriarchal society where wives were subjected to their husbands.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching Miss Julie?
“How race, class and gender hierarchies distort personal relationships; how those tensions can destroy everything that is genuine and beautiful in relationships unless we challenge those hierarchies.”
Finally, what would you say to anyone considering buying a ticket for the show?
“You won’t regret it! Director Dadiow Lin has created a beautiful production with the amazing actors Jennifer Leong, Sophie Robinson and Leo Wan.”
New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s 2021 tour of Miss Julie opens at York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26, 8pm nightly; 3pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Amy Ng: the back story
AMY Ngis a British-Hong Kong playwright, whose theatre credits include Under The Umbrella (Belgrade Theatre/UK tour), Acceptance (Hampstead Theatre) and Shangri-La (Finborough Theatre).
She is under commission to the Royal Shakespeare Company and ice&fire, is developing her play Thatcher In China at the National Theatre Studio and is part of the inaugural Genesis Almeida New Playwrights Big Plays programme.