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Helen George on Patrick Marber's "After Miss Julie"

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 4th Jul 2016 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Helen George as Miss Julie

How would you describe the character of Miss Julie?

She’s a very complicated character. She’s a character who’s really been there through history, through art and through literature. The particular take on Miss Julie in Patrick Marber’s adaptation is of someone who is very confused. She was brought up by a mother who had very socialist ideals and it’s suggested she could have been part of the suffragette movement as well. Her father is a labour peer and her mother brought her up as a child of nature. She brought her up in boys’ clothes, teaching her about the land and farming, so she’s torn between being the lady of the house and this weird upbringing she had from her mother. She watched her parents have a very destructive and abusive relationship so she’s quite complicated and damaged and somewhat ill-fated.

Does she present any particular challenges for you as an actress?

There’s so much meat to the part. There’s so much substance. There’s so much research to be done. Patrick helps so much with his writing; it’s really all there in the script. Joining up the poeticism and flowery nature of the Strindberg text, which Patrick uses some of, with Patrick’s own language is very interesting. It gets quite bloody and gory in the middle of a refined play so it’s about finding the links between the horror, the gore, the tragedy and the reality because it’s a very real tale.

What is it about the character that resonates with you?

I think there’s something in each of these characters which would and should resonate with each person in the audience. I think at some point everyone will have been in a similar love triangle or could be in one and they could be either one of these people and play either role within this tale of how these three people work together and the power struggle between them all. Another resonant theme is that of finding a woman’s place in a modern world when you’re slightly constrained by how you should behave and how you should carry out your life whilst at the same time juggling the masculinity that’s within yourself as well.

What do you see as the other key themes of the play?

One of the main themes is entrapment – like entrapment of gender and the entrapment of class. The two central characters, Julie and John, have this very passionate love affair which is very animalistic but they can never truly be together. John has this wonderful line where he says ‘Men like me can rise like bread but never like cake’ and I think that sums up his role in it.

Were you already familiar with the play?

Absolutely. It’s a classic. This particular adaptation I did extracts from at drama school, so I was familiar with it. When my friend Anthony Banks, who is directing it, asked whether we should do this I jumped at the chance. I thought ‘It would be amazing to revisit it ten years later with more experience and more life experience’. This time round I understand more what she’s talking about whereas when I was 20 I didn’t.

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Miss Julie (Helen George) taunting John (Richard Flood)

Why do you feel sets Patrick Marber apart as a playwright?

He’s very good with his language because he sets the play in a different landscape to Strindberg and it’s politically-themed, which enables him to address the gender fight and the sexual fight. He’s very direct; he cuts across, like I said, the flowery nature of Strindberg’s work. He’s really honest and makes it accessible to a modern-day audience and hopefully makes them feel it’s not far-fetched – that’s not just a piece of theatre, it’s a piece of realism as well.

He’s fantastic and the joyous thing is that he’s been involved in the production. He’s answered questions that are left to the audience’s imagination but which the actors need to know, but it’s rare to have the writer in the room with you – certainly not when it’s an adaptation.

What’s the one thing you couldn’t be without on tour?

I’m touring with my dog Charlie so if I lose him I’ll be scuppered. I also take the script with me of course. 

Do you have any pre or post-show rituals?

Post-show I always have a drink in the pub. Pre-show I try to just stay calm and focussed. A few years ago I’d say my lines 20 times before I went on stage but you can drive yourself mad doing with the fear of it when actually you just have to relax beforehand, listen to some music and calm down. 

Can you pop to the pub without being recognised? And is Trixie on Call The Midwife the role you’re most recognised for by the public?

There are a few times when I am recognised and I always feel very awkward about it because I never know what to say, but a lot of time I can live my life without it happening. But yes, it’s mainly Call The Midwife people know from me and also Strictly Come Dancing. Outside of London people are more likely to come up and ask for a photo whereas in London it seems people will notice you and take a sneaky picture. It’s completely different. 

Have you kept up the dancing since Strictly?

No, but we are doing a little dance section in this so that’ll be the first time since I did the show.

Do you have any plans to do more musical theatre?

It’s what I started off doing and I wouldn’t say no to it, it’s just the right musical hasn’t presented itself yet. Maybe at some point in the future.

 

After Miss Julie will be playing at Richmond Theatre from 11th July 2016.

Tickets: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/after-miss-julie/richmond-theatre/#buy-now

Photographs by Nobby Clark.

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