A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Miss Julie In Red & A Ghost In Black
Friday, January 16, 2009

Last night I felt the presence of a ghost dressed in black.

Last night at the Vancouver Playhouse Rosemary and I saw the opening performance of Stephen Sachs's adaptation of August Strindberg's play Miss Julie subtitled Freedom Summer.

My knowledge of Swedish playwrights was exactly zero in August 1992 when I photographed Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. Before I took her to my studio for her photograph I was present at an interview she gave John Lekich at the Hotel Vancouver. Lindfors kept talking, with much excitement, of her love and admiration for someone called Strindberg. I kept thinking what my gradmother would have remarked, "Un ilustre desconocido que ni en su tierra conocen." or an illustrious unknown perhaps not even known in his own land. Lindfors told Lekich of her project to appear in a play in Sweden called In Search of Strindberg. She did just before her death in 1995.

In my studio Lindfors faced my camera and instructed me, "I am proud of my face. I am proud of every crease, fold and wrinkle. Make sure you capture them as they are." This I did. To break the ice (perhaps to make myself feel more comfortable in the face of this almost haughty, but sweet woman who stared at me with her striking eyes) I mentioned that I had loved her as the Queen of Spain in her 1948 film opposite Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Don Juan. She countered with, "Everybody tells me that but if you really want to know what I am most proud of it is the double bill I played off-Broadway, in 1956. I played Miss Julie in Miss Julie and Miss Y in The Stronger. Both are Strindberg plays." That evening when I went home I investigated August Strindberg.

The cast of last night's production by The Playhouse Theatre Company was superb. The black chauffeur John was played by Kevin Hanchard, the black cook (her accent was so authentically impenetrable that I could not understand anything she said for the first five minutes!) was Raven Dauda and Caroline Cave was Miss Julie.

It is difficult to see a play that transplants a young woman from an aristocratic family in Sweden to a small town in Mississippi on July 4, 1964 without the theatre goer of a certain age (me!) not bringing some baggage from the past. I kept comparing Hanchard's John to a fictitious (but very real to me) performance of John by Sidney Poitier. By the end of the show I concluded that Hanchard played it as well as Poitier would have. And hands down, Hanchard has a better singing voice!

But it was Caroline Cave as Miss Julie (in a performance reminiscent of another one that Lee Remick never gave), in the killer red dress and the killer cleavage, that kept demanding my attention. One moment she was forcing John to kiss her shoe and the next she was pleading for him to dance with her.

Last night I was the only one there with a ghost behind my shoulder, who with a smile on her face and approving of Cave's performance, whispered in my ear, "This is real Strindberg."

Miss Julie - Freedom Summer continues until January 31.


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