I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
As the entirely unscripted games in Love Island play out on TV, Manchester's Hope Mill is staging a nineteenth-century psychological drama with a toxic love triangle at its core.
In 1888, when August Strindberg was writing Miss Julie, Hope Mill was heading into its sixty-fifth year of spinning cotton. In this production, the former mill plays the role of a country house kitchen - where emotions are as exposed as the red brickwork.
Miss Julie is set in the mad glare of a Swedish midsummer eve. On the evening I walked through Ancoats to Hope Mill, Manchester's June-air hung heavy - aching to rain. It was a fitting atmosphere for the ominous revelries of Strindberg's 'naturalistic tragedy.'
As Julie, Alice Frankham starts the evening as a kind of sexed-up Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. She leans over her servant, John (Danny Solomon), as she plucks something from his eye and orders him to kiss her shoe.
Alice Frankham as Miss Julie Danny Solomon as John. Photo credit: Ed Rees
The play's dynamic stems from the brittle facade of Julie's aristocratic disdain and the frustrated ambitions of John, which threaten to boil over like a neglected copper pot on a kitchen stove.
As John, Danny Solomon is at his most compelling in the way he conveys what Strindberg called "the slaves brutality."(August Strindberg, Plays by August Strindberg. Second Series, trans. by Edwin Bjorkman (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913).
Even when he stands ramrod straight with his hands behind his back he looks as though he is zeroing in on his prey. As Strindberg also said: "Sexually he is the aristocrat because of his male strength."
The production, in period costume, runs for an hour and a half, without an interval, and in this 120-seat space there are no hiding places for the actors.
Alice Frankham and Danny Solomon sustain the necessary intensity throughout - even at the somewhat moralistic and tortuous denouement.
As Christine, a cook and John's steadfast fiance, Lois Mackie provides a counterpoint to Julie's manic nervous energy. Julie swings from one conviction to another like a drunk passenger on a rocky train, clutching for anything that will steady herself.
Danny Solomon as John and Alice Frankham as Miss Julie. Photo credit: Ed Rees
Lois Mackie's wounded glances at John and Julie prevent Christine from being too earnest a character for us to care about. It is a tricky role to negotiate. It sometimes seems as though Christine's biblical morality was an attempt by Strindberg to appease the censors.
Lois Mackie as Christine and Alice Frankham as Miss Julie. Photo credit: Ed Rees
There is only one section when the three protagonists are not on stage. When Jean and Julie sneak away, a riot of servants take over the kitchen - waving tankards and singing songs about cherry picking.
As in Chekhov's plays, they seemed to foreshadow the collapse or slicing away of the old feudal order. When two of them danced on the kitchen table I feared it would fall apart literally but luckily the wood did not give way.
This production is a return to Manchester for the Durham-based Elysium Theatre Company. Both Alice Frankham and Danny Solomon were seen at HOME last year in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train.
Alice Frankham as Miss Julie and Danny Solomon as John. Photo credit: Ed Rees
Miss Julie reunites them with that production's director - Jake Murray. He injects a pacy tempo into the proceedings which helps to off-set the melodrama which Strindberg's play sometimes threatens to get stuck in.
The production, which uses a translation by Michael Meyer, comes to Manchester from the North East and Hexham's Queen's Hall Arts Centre,
It is Produced by Jake Murray and Hannah Ellis Ryan - who was recently seen scamming Liz McDonald (Beverley Callard) in Coronation Street.
The People's Theatre, Stockholm. Manda Björling as Miss Julie (left), Sacha Sjöström as Kristin, and August Falck as Jean By Unknown photographer - Book: Strindberg and the Five Senses, bu Hans-Goran Ekman (1906) unknown photographer, Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77821172