Sex, servants, a real live dog on stage... there's a lot going for Anthony Banks' production of After Miss Julie, not least that it stars Call the Midwife'sHelen George in the title role.
Strindberg's original play, Miss Julie, shocked 19th century audiences with its portrayal of a wealthy young woman who looks beyond her own class for a lover. In Patrick Marber's 'unfaithful' but loving version, the action moves forward to the euphoria of England in 1945 and the Labour landslide victory that signalled a huge change in the social order.
Designer Colin Richmond has created a superbly detailed country-house kitchen in a set that suggests the opulence of the home surrounding this domestic hub, where Miss Julie descends below stairs in her pursuit of her father's chauffeur John. Richmond has dressed all three characters with crisp, post-war economy that nevertheless translates into some gorgeously tailored outfits for Miss Julie and a particularly natty Sunday best for servant Christine.
Helen George is a brittle and beautiful Miss Julie, intensely watchable and with all the caprice and neediness of this struggling, dangerous woman. And the fact that the play requires her to dance with wild abandon gives her an early opportunity to demonstrate once again, post Strictly, that she is an extremely accomplished dancer too, showcased to great effect by Philip Gladwell's enchanting lighting design.
As church-going, dependable Christine, Amy Cudden offers a strong anchor throughout the production. Christine holds her place as queen of the kitchen with assurance and warm-hearted good sense, until her own domestic certainties are laid waste by her mistress, and Cudden creates one of the play's most intense points when she discovers she's been betrayed by her fiancé.
John is played by Richard Flood, and his struggles to deal with Miss Julie's mix of naivety and ruthless sensuality are at the heart of the action. Flood seizes the opportunities for humour and captures the careless swagger of a man who starts the play knowing his place and rather liking it.
However the underlying problem is that the key relationship between John and Miss Julie lacks a really convincing sizzle. It's there at times - the 'Kiss my shoe' scene is one success - but there's something missing in the sensual chemistry between the two of them, and John's passion doesn't ever seem to quite come to the boil, so to speak, despite some pretty bruising encounters.
But this is in many ways a gritty and powerful production, and Marber's version of Strindberg is an intriguing examination of sexual politics and the enduring conflicts of class.
After Miss Julie runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 4 June, after which it tours.