JULIE at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre
For anyone new to the narrative of Miss Julie this stunningly staged production at the Lyttelton Theatre excites, engages and explodes in a visual and moving experience.
Hotfooting it from the Netflix’s acclaimed royal soap opera The Crown is Vanessa Kirby, whose brilliant portrayal of Princess Margaret has put her firmly in the spotlight. In Polly Stenham’s contemporary update of Strindberg’s classic at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre, Kirby plays the meaty leading role of Julie as a deeply damaged, fragile trustafarian, come wild child who is in the throes of celebrating her 33rd birthday in her father’s lavish Hampstead home.
We are invited into the intricately entwined lives of Julie, her father’s Ghanaian chauffeur (Eric Kofi Abrefa), and his Brazilian fiancée Kristina (Thalissa Teixeira), who plays the home help. These three young people live a life of co-dependency where boundaries are crossed and roles blurred through over-familiarity in which Poly Stenham clearly accents the class social divide from the outset. Julie has lost her mother and is in the aftermath of a failed relationship and seizes her chance to be back in the centre of someone’s world. Jean is equally seduced by her allure and in both attraction and desire for escape, whereas Kristina is the innocent victim of their passions.
Carrie Cracknell’s highly polished 90 minute production is superbly staged, designer Tom Scutt’s set creates a beautifully sleek ivory polished stone, open plan kitchen which takes the foreground whilst the backdrop is a glamorous, pulsing rave representing the vacuous life of the rich and reckless, awash with drugs and dubiously fake middle-class friends in amidst a world of privilege.
This sharp and thrilling play creates an upstairs-downstairs feel and sets the scene for the thin lines drawn between class, power, race and gender. There are strongly executed performances all round, yet I didn’t once feel any sexual chemistry between Julie and Jean, nor in fact with Kristina. Kirby’s portrayal of Julie was full of verisimilitude however her journey was unchanging from beginning to end; she started in a vulnerable state and ended up in much the same way, only littered with the destruction she had caused.
This contemporary adaptation is successfully brought bang up to date and has plenty of appeal for the younger audience, especially for those that don’t know the power in which Julie in Strindberg’s version wielded and to what effect.
This is the story of the rich, troubled female abandoned by dysfunctional absent parents through death and work and the subsequent destruction of those she cares for. Carrie Cracknell’s production has illuminated the obvious tensions and ultimate devastation caused when all these elements are thrown into the mixing pot. So in amongst the penalties of privilege, what we are left with is the inevitable fragility of the human soul when loss overwhelms our lives and defines who we are.
Julie at the Lyttelton, National Theatre to September 8; NT Live screening, September 6