Julie // (oh, baby)

JULIE    (oh, baby)

National Theatre

dir. Carrie Cracknell, adp. Polly Stenham

This is a love story.

(Maybe)

I hate Strindberg’s Miss Julie. I just can’t shake the feeling that he was sort of a misogynistic piece of crap, and so was his play. He tried so hard to write a naturalistic play. He even proclaimed that Miss Julie was the first true naturalistic drama. But his play seems to be so far away from Naturalism as any play could be in the 19th century. It takes place on Midsummer’s Eve, when impulses are released and in the dead of night things are pushed to their carnivalistic extreme. The concept of Strindberg’s drama is that two people, (a high class woman and her father’s valet), are drawn together in a battle of psychology and sexuality.

Polly Stenham and Carrie Cracknell just sort of fuck it all up from there.

This rewrite/adaptation/overturning was so sexy. Strindberg’s version doesn’t let itself be too sexy. It’s so ***subtextual*** and ***subconscious*** that desire starts being mistaken for love. What Stenham and Cracknell’s production does so well is that it teases us with the idea that maybe these two people are actually really truly in love with each other. That the mind games are just the way they show their love. The (social and interpersonal) toxicity reveals itself in the blending of birds and the sniffing of cocaine.

The idea of carnival is extended into a rave – what happens when the night feels longer than the day? When the people who stay longest aren’t really your friends at all, and climb into your kitchen cupboards. I sometimes feel like Cracknell’s movement direction lies disjointed against her modern, clean productions. It really worked in Julie. As another Julie appears onstage in the furor of the dancing ket-heads, we realise that something has come undone in the fabric of what is meant to be. It lets the unsettling and discordant elements of the script bleed through.

Vanessa Kirby is sort of made to play this role. It’s like if Princess Margaret enjoyed EDM and MDMA. She slips and slides across the stage. Her clothing drapes and falls around her, cascading onto the floor and around her head. She is really sexy. Her voice is raspy and her hair untidy. She never lets her performance verge into the uncontrollable. She is always, we like to think, totally and utterly aware of what she is doing to Eric Kofi Abrefa’s Jean and to us. His performance glows and tilts. We are never quite sure what he is thinking, whether he loves or pities or despises or desires her – and that’s probably exactly what he wants. Then Thalissa Teixeira’s Kristina is so much more interesting, layered, and empathetic than in Strindberg’s original. Cracknell places at the forefront of scenes – silent but present. Her performance sheds a whole new light, a whole undiscovered light, onto this supposed two-hander. I care what happens to her, and what she feels.

Julie actually kills herself in this one. It’s totally unambiguous. And at first I hated that. But then I sort of think maybe it’s defiant. It is brutal. It is exactly how this very dark, very toxic, very unsettling play should end.

 

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