This Julie Misses

Rating: 5

Julie

by Georgina Brown 

Vanessa Kirby is making a name for herself as fabulously spoilt, monstrous – and damaged – beauties. Her Princess Margaret was one of the jewels in Netflix's the Crown. now, again with a ciggy dangling from fingers that have done little more than hold a glass, she is playing Julie, in Polly Stenham’s contemporary adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's 19th-century scorcher, Miss Julie, about love and lust straddling class barriers.

Stenham has upped the ante, adding race to the potentially explosive mix. Julie is white, educated, privileged, a failed writer, back home having been dumped by her boyfriend; her housekeeper, Kristina, is missing the young son she has left in a foreign land, and is studying maths; Ghanaian jean, Kristina's fiancé, has dreams of running a restaurant.

Upstairs in the Hampstead mansion, Julie and her guests, androgynous narcissists every one, are writhing and whirling in glamorous and glittering costumes. the music throbs, too loud for conversation. Instead, this is drink and drug-fuelled, lustful body-talk. and for all the energy and beauty of the partygoers, it’s soulless, joyless, enervating. downstairs, Kristina, is dutifully stuffing the dishwasher while Jean, the chauffeur – much toKristina'ss disapproval – has helped himself to his employer’s best wine, and as he sniffs and swills it, he seems to regard himself as a connoisseur. These 21st-century servants don’t refer to the trustafarian daughter of their employer as Miss. She’s Julie, and they’ve been washing her knickers and collecting her from abortion clinics for years. As Kristina says, kindly and not at all judgementally: ‘I know everything.’ Which makes it all the more wounding when Julie hits on Jean without so much as a thought about what she is doing to the only woman who has ever cared about her. And particularly vile since when she asks Jean if he will come and dance with her because she needs ‘to look wanted’, she says to Kristina: ‘don’t worry, I won’t steal him.’

A willowy Kirby, dirty blonde hair a tangled mess, eyeliner smudged, reckless and feckless, sways on bare feet, snorting coke and emptying glasses, evidently miserable and lost but hard to pity. The scene when we are, presumably, inside Julie's addled brain and she imagines weird creatures, part insect, part plant, slithering in and vanishing into the kitchen appliances, is more bizarre than disturbing. When Julie, worried about abandoning her beloved caged bird (don’t miss the symbolism here), pops it in the magimix and whizzes up canary puree, it provoked more laughter than horror.

In spite of the impressive gloss and slickness of Carrie Cracknell’s production, it’s all surface and no soul, all posturing, no real pain. Too much Stenham, not enough Strindberg.

Until 8 September at the Lyttelton Theatre: 020-7452 3000, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk 

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