‘Miss Julie’ by August Strindberg has a stable stage life in the Bulgarian theatrical practice and during the years some of the play interpretations have turned into emblematic performances. Such are for example the performances of Galin Stoev (1993) and ‘Jean, Julie and Christine’ by Margarita Mladenova (2007). Therefore, it is truly challenging and curious when one comes across a new reading. The performance of director Anton Ugrinov (dramaturgical adaptation by Stefan Ivanov) faces the challenge to overcome the naturalistic language of the dramaturgy, and although it concentrates on some of the key problems such as social determinism, sex limitations, questions about identity of traumas and how they are exposed in the present, it also enquires about their path through the family memory and how the riot against the patriarchal status quo in the being becomes individual’s defeat. These themes have been transposed into individual struggles about how each one of the three characters aims to change their personal perspective.
The works of naturalism, despite their illusionary clarity, act upon the model of mimicry. The plots they revealed, usually up to their historical time of emergence, were impossible – they were in total contradiction to the bourgeois order. The charm of this type of dramaturgy, as is evident in this performance too, is rooted in the possibility behind the materialistic physiological façade, which is a replica of the reality, to be presented through internalized psychological problems, identity crises in a rigid world, in this case, arguably, dominant by the male force.
Here, with some scarce means on the stage, we see a real world, but the problems are highly loaded with further dimensions beyond the social determinism and feminist readings of the binary opposition between the sexes. The space organization of the performance (scenography by Nikola Toromanov), uses the actual walls of the theatre hall, there is a working TV, and the food is real, i.e. all seems real. However, the question how naturalistic should the actors’ acting be in order that the problems resonate with the audience, lingers in the air.
Not once or twice, Strindberg has been accused of misogyny, not only with this work of his. In the performance under discussion, however, one cannot find the answers to all of the questions the script poses or at least the characters refuse to give them and motivate their behavior up to the last line. In the offered replete aggressive-erotic narrative, concentrated on the traumatic attraction between Julie (Victoria Nikolova) and Jean (Boyan Mladenov), the motifs remain implicitly stated. I can boldly claim that an in-depth acting idea of how the riot against the status quo in the life of each character is formed and how it culminates in a destructive eroticism, could contribute to better rhythmical structure of the performance. Nevertheless, the questions keep on piling – what are Christine’s motifs to swallow her vulnerability? Is self-hatred important so much so that to allow your servant to seduce you (or to punish him with a sexual act?). All these questions stand behind our façade of spectators.
The performance by director Anton Ugrinov, dramaturg Stefan Ivanov, scenograph Nikola Torormanov, composer Kalin Nikolov and the acting cast – Victoria Nikolova, Boyan Mladenov and Lilyana Shomova, raises the question about how the transposed problems of a classical dramaturgy upon the realities of the present are reflected into the texture of the spectacle, and most importantly on the actors’ presence. The contemporary reflexivity and sensitivity seem insufficient in order to reveal the battles to their fullest end. It seems that language and gesture remain locked into the state that we have images, which are victims (to themselves) from the very beginning of the performance and their fight is with a predictive end. Along with all these, the skillful game for dominance with seeming weakness does not allow us to perceive or feel the characters’ traumas. Our ability to be fully devoted to the aggressive-erotic narrative begins to lose grounds due to the accumulated fatigue amongst the characters and eroticism is nearly reduced to physiology. All that said, the most important question still remains: what does a contemporary actors’ presence do and to what extent should the spectators’ expectations about the possible or the impossible be stretched with the re-interpretation of a key text from Modern European theatre. To this question, we suppose, the performance can only give a response only if it lives a longer life.
by A. Strindberg
Adaptation: Stefan Ivanov
Director: Anton Ugrinov
Artist: Nikola Toromanov
Music: Kalin NIkolov
Movement score: Deyan Georgiev
Cast: Victoria Nikolova, Boyan Mladenov, Lilyana Shomova
Photography: Stefan Shterev
Vazrazhdane Municipality Theatre, premiere on 19th – 20th March 2022