REVIEW: Finding solution to “problem play” Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal…or not?

Leo Wan as ambitious John and Sophie Robinson as restless Julie in Amy Ng’s re-setting of Strindberg’s Miss Julie in British colonial post-war Hong Kong for New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse

Miss Julie, New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse, Chester, York Theatre Royal, The Love Season, 8pm tonight; 3pm, 8pm, tomorrow, then on tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

NEW Earth Theatre director Dadiow Lin is “not a fan of the original version” of Miss Julie, Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s once-banned, naturalistic tragedy of gender and class warfare.

Damned for misogynism, it remains a “problem play”, and yet fresh adaptations of this revolutionary work, full of psychological manipulation, lust and lies, keep emerging, no problem.

In 1995, Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie re-located its psycho-sexual pas de deux to an English country house in July 1945, on the night of the Labour Party’s post-war landslide General Election triumph. In 2012, in South African director and playwright Jael Farber’s Afrikaans’ version, Mies Julie, it became an apartheid story in a remote, bleak farm in modern-day South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert.

A year later, for York company Hedgepig Theatre, Gemma Sharp moved the turbulent triangle of lust, power and betrayal from Midsummer Night’s perma-light Scandinavia to the bright lights, decadence and debauchery of the Jazz Age England.

Andy Curry’s John and Gemma Sharp’s Julie in York company Hedgepig Theatre’s 1920s’ Jazz Age version of Miss Julie in January 2013

The 1920s, Sharp reasoned, were a time when sex before marriage was still frowned on, the class structure was rigid, and there was inequality for women, a status being challenged by the rise of the Suffragettes, the quest for female empowerment and the wearing-away of high society’s certainties.

Now, the ever-restless Miss Julie is on the move again, to the Orient, to post-war 1940s’ Hong Kong, back in British colonial hands after the surrender to the Japanese in wartime.

In British-Hong Kong playwright Amy Ng’s poetic, potent hands, it becomes politically as well as sexually charged, the chemical compound newly in danger of exploding with the extra measure of racial tension.

What had changed since the British 1920s for women and servants? Not much. The class structure was still rigid; inequality was still prevalent; high society was still high and mighty, titled and ever entitled; women and servants alike were expected to know their place.

Playwright Amy Ng

This applied as much to the British abroad, maybe even more so, and yet even though Hong Kong had been handed back to the Brits for reasons of “racial superiority”, the tentacles of Chinese Communism were reaching out in the shadows.

The British Governor General’s chauffeur, John (Leo Wan), now sees the British in a new light, weakened in their control, and he despises them for it.

Ng has retained the essence of the Strindberg storyline and three-hander structure, changing its setting, bolstering its topicality for the new Hong Kong, in its 21st century Chinese straitjacket, turning up the slow-burning heat in the cauldron of the servants’ hall amid the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Into the quietude of the party preparations of cook Christine (Jennifer Leong) and her preening fiancé John gate-crashes the Governor’s unguarded yet repressed daughter, Julie (Sophie Robinson), nursing a damaged ankle (or so she says), having hit her party straps outside already, with the Governor elsewhere.

Sophie Robinson’s Julie: “Spoilt, immature, blinkered, grand but needy, solipsistic, false, annoying, capricious, complaining. The question is why?”

She brings in her caged canary (ah, symbolism, evoking Ibsen and Chekhov’s trapped lives); then notes the dead flowers in the decorations (ah, more symbolism) and proceeds to flirt, dance and plot brazenly with John, as a sexual game of chess is played under Christine’s scowling gaze from behind the bamboo canes of a kitchen lit with Chinese lanterns.

It takes three acts in 1879’s A Doll’s House for all hope of escape to be expunged; Strindberg’s candle burns out in one act, gone in 75 minutes. All that symbolism peaks with a Lion Dance, to signify their sexual fires, a conflagration that can lead only one way when the tide turns, as hierarchal contempt, rather than misogyny, plays its hand in the shift of power and female empowerment withers on a bitter vine.

In our era of Brexit and the open dislike of the UK (not only in that pointless Eurovision vote), Robinson’s Julie is the not-so-bright young Brit thing writ large in an earlier age but still familiar: spoilt, immature, blinkered, grand but needy, solipsistic, false, annoying, capricious, complaining. The question is why?

She is born to privilege, gifted with opportunities, but lacking judgement and parental guidance, she has no sense of purpose or direction; her world is precarious, doomed. Maybe that is the difference between entitlement and empowerment; here she lacks the tools within for the latter. Today, she would be on Made In Chelsea.

For all Robinson’s enticing performance, for all Ng’s soulful poetry and contemplative intelligence, this damaged-goods, volatile Julie is not the stuff of tragedy or shock. More a one-night stand with too much baggage.

The cat and mouse games of the Lion Dance in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal

Wan’s John encapsulates the new vision of Ng’s version. He walks with a swagger, emboldened and ambitious, his contempt on the rise, while still polishing the British Governor General’s shoes and wanting to use the British to facilitate his Western wishes, tantalised by the prospect of becoming a hotelier.

Neglectful of Christine, ultimately dismissive of Julie, his ambivalent actions are embedded both in an abiding sense of presumed male supremacy and now a need to challenge the sense of racial “inferiority” that eats away at his subservience.

Like her pragmatic, deceptively calculating character, Leong’s Christine is less demonstrative amid the melodrama, the crash and burn around her, in the Freudian battle of the sexes.

Who should be given the final moment in Lin’s beautifully composed production but Christine, preparing herself for the new day’s work; nothing to see here, carry on. Some lives will always occupy that lane, picking up the pieces, but they are not the lives of self-destructive destiny that make the story, that draw us to the theatre, whether in Strindberg or Ng’s account.

Remains of the day: Jennifer Leong’s house cook Christine at the close of Miss Julie

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Why playwright Amy Ng has transferred Strindberg’s Miss Julie to 1940s’ Hong Kong

Jennifer Leong as Christine in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie

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.”    

Playwright Amy Ng

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

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.

More Things To Do in and around York before and after Johnson’s “Terminus Est”. List No. 37, courtesy of The Press, York

A fight for survival as sex, power, money and race collide on a hot night: Sophie Robinson as Julie in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s Miss Julie at York Theatre Royal

FREEDOM Day is delayed but Boris Johnson has reached for the Latin dictionary again with his promise of “Terminus Est”.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, life goes on in Charles Hutchinson’s socially distanced diary.

Play of the week ahead: Miss Julie, The Love Season at York Theatre Royal, June 22 to 26

ON the Chinese New Year in 1940s’ Hong Kong, the celebrations are in full swing when Julie, the 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 Strindberg’s psychological drama in New Earth Theatre and Storyhouse’s new touring production. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Reopening today: Leeds Grand Theatre auditorium will be welcoming an audience for the first time in 15 months

Reopening of the day: Leeds Grand Theatre

WHEN Leeds Grand Theatre first opened its doors on Monday, November 18 1878, a playbill declared it would “Positively Open”. Now, after 15 months under wraps, it is “Positively Reopening” today (17/62021) for a socially distanced run of Northern Ballet’s Swan Lake until June 26.

In Northern Ballet‘s emotive retelling, Anthony’s life is haunted by guilt after the tragic loss of his brother. When he finds himself torn between two loves, he looks to the water for answers.

There he finds solace with the mysterious swan-like Odette as the story is beautifully reimagined by David Nixon, who will be leaving the Leeds company after 20 years as artistic director in December. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or at boxoffice@leedsheritagetheatres

Abba Mania: Saying thank you for the superSwedes’ music at York Racecourse on June 26

Staying on track: Sounds In The Grounds, Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, June 25 to 27

JAMBOREE Entertainment presents three Covid safety-compliant Sounds In The Grounds concerts next weekend with socially distanced picnic patches at York Racecourse.

First up, next Friday, will be Beyond The Barricade, a musical theatre celebration starring former Les Miserables principals; followed by Abba Mania next Saturday and the country hits of A Country Night In Nashville next Sunday.

Opening each show will be York’s party, festival and wedding favourites, The New York Brass Band. Tickets are on sale at or at the gate for last-minute decision makers.

The poster for the return of the York River Art Market

Welcome back: York River Art Market, Dame Judi Dench Walk, York, from June 26

AFTER the pandemic ruled out all last year’s live events, York River Art Market returns to its riverside railing perch at Dame Judi Dench Walk, by Lendal Bridge, for ten shows this summer in the wake of the winter’s online #YRAMAtHome, organised by Charlotte Dawson.

Free to browse and for sale will be work by socially distanced, indie emerging and established artists on June 26, July 3, 24, 25 and 31 and August 1, 7, 14, 21 and 28, from 10.30am to 5.30pm, when YRAM will be raising funds for York Rescue Boat.

On show will be landscape and abstract paintings; ink drawings, cards and prints; jewellery and glass mosaics; woodwork and metalwork; textiles and clothing and artisan candles and beauty products.

Alexander Wright: Contemplating his debut solo performance of poems, stories and new writing on July 10. Picture: Megan Drury

He’s nervous, but why? Alexander Wright: Remarkable Acts Of Narcissism, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, July 10, 7.30pm

LET Alex tell the story: “In a potentially remarkable act of narcissism, I am doing a solo gig of my own work in a theatre I built (with Phil Grainger and dad Paul Wright) in my back garden. 

“It’s the first time I have ever done a solo gig. I write lots of stuff, direct lots of stuff, tour Orpheus, Eurydice & The Gods to hundreds of places. But I’ve never really stood in front of people and performed my own stuff, on my own, for an extended period. So, now, I am…and I’m nervous about it.”

Expect beautiful stories, beautiful poems and a few beautiful special guests; tickets via

Ringmaster and Dame Dolly Donut in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldilocks And The Three Bears at Pocklington Arts Centre

Summer “pantomime”? Yes, in TaleGate Theatre’s Goldlilocks And The Three Bears, Pocklington Arts Centre, August 12, 2.30pm

ALL the fun of live family theatre returns to Pocklington Arts Centre this summer with Doncaster company TaleGate Theatre’s big top pantomime extravaganza.

In Goldilocks And The Three Bears, pop songs, magic and puppets combine in a magical adventure where you are invited to help Goldilocks and her mum, Dame Dolly Donut, save their circus and rescue the three bears from the evil ringmaster. For tickets, go to:

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys: Headliners to be found at The Magpies Festival in Sutton-on-the-Forest in August

Festival alert: The Magpies Festival, Sutton Park, Sutton-on-the-Forest, near York, August 14, music on bar stage from 1.30pm; main stage, from 2.30pm

SAM Kelly & The Lost Boys will headline The Magpies Festival in the grounds of Sutton Park.

Confirmed for the folk-flavoured line-up too are: Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra; Blair Dunlop; fast-rising Katherine Priddy; The Magpies; York musician Dan Webster; East Yorkshire singer-songwriter Katie Spencer; the duo Roswell and The People Versus. Day tickets and camping tickets are available at   

A variation on Malvolio’s cross-gartered stocking theme: Yellow and black rugby socks for Luke Adamson’s version of Twelfth Night on the Selby RUFC pitch

Fun and games combined: JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm

“I’M just getting in touch to announce we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!” promises Luke Adamson, Selby-born actor, London theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray.

Adapted and directed by Adamson, a raucous, musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play”, Twelfth Night, will be staged with Adamson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with Yorkshire acting talent.

Out go pantaloons and big fluffy collars, in come rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair. Box office: