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Nastazja Domaradzka

Review: JULIE at The National Theatre

Julie - National Theatre In this modern dress adaptation of Strindberg's 1888 1 Act play, MISS JULIE, It’s Julie’s (Vanessa Kirby) birthday and she’s throwing a massive party at her father’s mansion. People come in and out of the house but there is a feeling of boredom around Julie. She is determined to entertain herself and hide from real life; her escapism is filled with drugs and alcohol.

Meanwhile Julie’s assistant Kristina (Thalissa Teixeir) is finishing off her last chores in the kitchen accompanied by her fiancé, household chauffeur Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa). As the night goes on and Kristina goes off to bed, Julie turns a drug filled night into a seductive game; a game that Jean is happy to join.

Events play out on Tom Scutt’s vast set, split into two levels, representing the downstairs and upstairs of Julie’s house which is sterile below and messy above. After all, her life is a a never ending party that someone will have to clean up.

Whilst this new take on a classic story provokes some interesting thoughts it fails to dig deep enough. The original play explores sopcial mobility but in this National Theatre’s production writer Polly Stenham attempts to address issues of race as well as class. I say attempt because a subject as complex as racism in contemporary 2018 Britain deserves more attention than it gets here. The adaptation merely nods at the micro-aggressions, social injustices and everyday struggles of black communities. Similarly the plight of the economic migrant remains unexamined, despite the fact that in this version Julie’s assistant Kristina (Thalissa Teixeira) is a Brazilian who leaves her son behind in search of work.

Carrie Cracknell directs the scenes between Julie and Jean with nuance and they feel inimate despite the size of the big theatre and the towering set. Kirby’s Julie is spectacularly good, her desires are out of her control like her body; always moving, always gliding, playing a constant game with her own sanity. Eric Kofi Abrefa’s Jean is a perfect match for Julie; alert and always aiming to be a step ahead of a woman he both desires and hates.

During the 80 minute running time I felt both uncomfortable and moved and Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal really brought out Julie’s multi-layered femininity and sexuality. But does London Theatre really need another production of this regularly revived play, in which a man explores a woman's feelings, when there are still so many female playwrights we haven’t heard from.