Initially proposed by artistic director Nelson Chia as an interesting project to embark on with Macau and performed in both cities, Pissed Julie went from a festival commissioned play featuring Macanese actors directed by Nelson, to an all new co-production between NYT and the festival. Based off Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Pissed Julie tackles issues of class and identity as director Nelson leads the cast of nine actors to portray three characters on stage, juxtaposing signs of different eras against a realist plot.
On the corruption of Strindberg’s original title, Nelson Chia comments on the definition of the word ‘pissed’, bringing to mind meanings of “excretion” and “release”, and in turn reinterpreting it to excavate new meanings of the classic play. Deconstructing its outdated and sometimes misogynistic views psychology and women, Nelson instead chose to focus on the concept of identity, and explore the common historical, cultural and geographical struggles faced by both Singaporeans and Macanese. Some similarities drawn include the fact that both places are island cities relying heavily on man-made entertainment to attract tourism. Bearing the history and remnants of European colonisation across both cities, beyond architecture and appearance alone, these histories run deep, forcing us to question our motherlands and even our mother tongues.
In the original Miss Julie, identity is instead explored through social class differences between Miss Julie and the servant, as it becomes increasingly complicated and entangled with human desire. Nelson then decided to bring this out by challenging the very form of the play itself with nine actors performing three roles, muddling the concept of character identities and appearances in his contemporary twist on the play. But this is not a case of split personality. Instead, Nelson hopes to bring out three possible psychological outcomes of the same character, and in so doing, reflect topics such as identity and power when woven into a single world, as he synchronises the actors through a shared training system and even their “breathing”.
Says Nelson on the experience of working on the production: “The greatest takeaway is to get to know a culture that is so similar yet different in many ways. It reminds us of how there are also so much diversity in seemingly similar people around the world.”
With the success of this production, NYT is also looking toward establishing relationships with their counterparts from Hong Kong and Taiwan for future collaborations. But before that, catch Pissed Julie when it premieres in Singapore this week for an insight into the innovative staging of this Swedish modern classic from Nine Years Theatre.
Photo credit: Patrick Lei and Nine Years Theatre
Pissed Julie plays at the KC Arts Centre from 17th – 20th May 2018. Tickets available from SISTIC