JULIE. National Theatre Live Screening. by Polly Stenham, after Strindberg. Directed by Carrie Cracknell With Vanessa Kirby and Eric Kofi Abrefa. Ster Kinekor Nouveau Cinemas.
MEGAN FURNISS reviews
National Theatre Live Screenings are my absolute and deep thrill. I am always so blown away by the opportunity to see these stage productions from the comfort of a cinema seat in Cape Town, South Africa, and this modern update of Strindberg’s Miss Julie is exactly the kind of theatre fix I need. Taking classics and re-contextualising them is what the National Theatre do best (last year’s Hedda Gabler and Yerma are two great examples) and Julie is another brilliant success.
A rewrite of Strindberg’s classic by Polly Stenham, and direction by Carrie Cracknell take this Julie in a strong female direction and it is moving, horrifying and resonant. With its traditional story of forbidden seduction across class lines broadened to include contemporary race and gender questions it becomes a hard-hitting criticism of modern-day relationships and dynamics.
Julie – the plot, the characters, the set
The plot. Wild and newly single, Julie throws a 33rd birthday party in her father’s mansion on Hampstead Heath. In the kitchen, her father’s driver Jean and Kristina her maid, who are recently engaged, clean up as the celebration heaves above them. Crossing the threshold, Julie initiates a power game with Jean – which rapidly descends into a savage fight for survival.
The characters. Vanessa Kirby’s Julie is horrifying. She is drunk and coked up, laconic, cynical, whimsical, desperate, aggressive, hurting, vicious and pathetic. Kirby manages the most complete and detailed characterisation I have seen on stage – physically, vocally and emotionally. Her performance is huge and devastatingly riveting and repulsive. I have never seen anything like it. Eric Kofi Abrefa’s Jean is less in your face, but deeply complex and heart-breaking, particularly because his knowledge and acceptance of his class and race is tempered with a wild and ridiculous naivety that is heart breaking and idealistic. Thalissa Teixeira’s Kristina is the most heart wrenching – the really hurt one of all three, who is forced to deal with the fallout on every level.
The enormous split-level set, with the heaving party and wild sex scene above the modern slab of a giant kitchen, with huge table and four dishwashers, is theatrical deliciousness. Julie is able to climb the walls, and the table. It is an empty yet ostentatious space. A place that need constant cleaning and organising,but is forever being dishevelled.
White liberal privilege
A spotlight is shown, with brutal harshness, on white liberal privilege and its accompanying rampant self-indulgence. Julie is tortured by the discovery of her mother’s body after her suicide, yet she never thinks about the fallout of her own actions. There was a lot here that hit home and would be very uncomfortable for a white South African audience.
The only moment that was weird, unnecessary and out of place was the bird in a blender moment and I can only imagine it was a creative blip that should have been let go.
I relished in this concise version of the story. I squirmed with discomfort at the mirror it held up to our most modern f—ed upness. Julie replies vaguely, “it’s all a construct” to something Jean says. It’s an excuse. For everything. As the final, silent image on the stage faded to blackout, a huge white strip light lit the outline of the stage. We had been the passive watchers again.
Where and when: Ster Kinekor Nouveau Cinemas on 13, 14, 17, 18 October 2018