As Miss Julie, the first show of The Bogota Anglo Theater (The BAT), opens in the city, Azzam Alkadhi takes in a performance and catches up with the cast
“An order must always sound unkind”, the valet tells Miss Julie in this August Strindberg classic. Miss Julie demands that her father’s servant tell her what to do and then complains that his tone is not kind enough. This one line encapsulates many of the themes that run through the play – with the passion and wildness of Midsummer night thrown up against the restraints of duty and social hierarchy.
The lack of a stage makes for an extremely intimate environment that ratchets up the tension, as the audience are seated in the room around the long dining table with the three main characters, who often brush against them. Inside, Miss Julie, the valet (Jean) and servant (Kristin), are bound in a love triangle, while outside hangs the spectre of the mysterious Count and the Midsummer revellers.
Ideas of love, hate and social classes are intertwined in almost every emotionally-charged exchange. Each conversation has the potential to explode violently as the characters fail in their attempts to subdue their feelings and conform to social expectations.
In between moments of subtle humour, witty lines and well-delivered ripostes, the audience is flung into 19th century Sweden and the duality of the world in which the characters live. Strindberg cleverly juxtaposes love and reason, passion and rationality, violence and tenderness, sickness and humanity. The characters seem paralysed with fear and trapped by society’s expectations.
Daniela de Ángel gives a stirring and emotive performance as the mentally unstable Miss Julie, seamlessly jumping between severe fury and intense elation. Her stunning portrayal of madness and emotional swings jerk the audience as she mixes tenderness with rage, arrogance with insecurity.
As the valet, Sebastián Eslava slavishly highlights the social divisions of the time. He plays a confused man, torn between pride, duty and love.
The subdued and servile Kristin is ably played by Laura Londoño (from June 9-18, with Yesenith Jaime taking on the role between May 26 and June 4), displaying genuine emotion and pain in her torrid encounters with Miss Julie and Jean.
The play is in rapid, classic English, and I wondered whether it could be difficult for a non-native audience to fully relate to the story. De Ángel, who grew up in Madrid, rejects this idea: “The themes in the play itself are very universal and timeless – classism, sexism, screwed-up families, the damage that we do to each other, unbridled passions… You don’t have to understand everything to really appreciate the themes of the story.”
Eslava agrees: “Even though the play was written in the late 1800s, the issue of social classes is a subject that you still see. It’s amazing that it has been so long and things really haven’t changed that much.”
For me, there were moments during the play when the English wasn’t entirely comprehensible, with acoustics and complex language both playing their part, the latter weighing heavy on the native Spanish-speaking cast.
Eslava explains that performing in a non-native language takes work: “The process is longer but more disciplined. At the beginning you’re always struggling with the words and the pronunciation and you have to work twice as hard as you would for a show in Spanish. But when you become free of the words, you can then start working on the relationships with the other actors and really get into the character.”
The actors’ hard work paid off, especially in the intimate venue which provided a thoroughly close-up experience of the play. Its location right on Carrera 9, however, does mean that the Midsummer night magic was sometimes interrupted by the modern-day sounds of the city.
All in all, this production of Miss Julie provides a powerful opening show for The BAT, that will surely be bringing more English theatre to Bogota.
Miss Julie is showing at La Herencia (Carrera 9 #69A-26) from May 19 until June 18. Tuesday-Thursday at 8pm. Tickets cost $35,000 COP and are available online here.
The city’s new The Bogota Anglo Theater (The BAT) brings English language plays to the capital for the first time.
Artistic Director Tigre Haller explains why he launched the project: “Colombia has had an incredibly rich theatrical history… but I noticed that in Bogota, there wasn’t a single company even doing plays in English, never mind a company dedicated to English language theatre.”
The actors are enthusiastic. Laura Londoño, from Medellin, says: “It’s a very important step for Bogota, the city is becoming a very multicultural place and we should be very open to that and embrace that. This is an important moment.” Co-star Sebastián Eslava excitedly chimes in: “This is the beginning of something special.”
Miss Julie is their first production, but The BAT are already thinking about what they might do next.
Haller adds: “We’ll definitely be doing a George Bernard Shaw piece, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Salome [Oscar Wilde] if we can find the right space for that, and Design for Living [Noël Coward], which is a comedy with an amazing message. We’ll also be staging a musical revue, something like Broadway or the West End.”
Additional reporting by Dan Haddow