Shocking and irresistible.
These two words probably best describe the new National Theatre production of Julie now showing at Luna Leederville.
Polly Stenham has written this modern adaptation after the original August Strindberg play ‘Miss Julie’, first published in 1888.
The ‘metamorphosis’ achieved in the new Julie when compared to the original 19th century Swedish version is both raw and incredibly powerful.
In the play – magnificently directed by Carrie Cracknell – rich and beautiful socialite Julie (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby) has a steamy affair with the family’s handsome chauffeur Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa).
Set in Julie’s palatial family home on salubrious Hampstead Heath, near London, the play is dominated by a loud, technicolour rave party attended by dozens of ‘out-there’ party animals in the upper levels of the house.
Newly single Julie is celebrating her 33rd birthday: and does so by indulging in more than her fair share of ‘sex, drugs and techno-music’.
At the same time, chauffeur Jean has been instructed by Julie’s absent businessman father to stay on at the party to ‘keep an eye on her’.
Also in attendance is Jean’s fiancé Kristina (sensibly played by Thalissa Teixeira), who also works for the family as a housekeeper and has built up a loyal and trusting relationship with Julie.
Unfortunately, this trust is soon shattered when, very late in the evening and after Kristina has gone home, Jean and Julie embark on a tempestuous and raunchy affair.
With the party above them in full swing, the two twist crazily to the techno beat – their bodies writhing in reckless abandon – before consummating their liaison in a devastating climax of ‘doof doof’ noise and electronic strobe lighting.
Soon afterwards, and realising the significance of what they have done, Jean suggests they run away together to the far-off African island of Cape Verde’ and leave their problems behind them.
The performances in Julie are sublime, with Vanessa Kirby excelling in the lead role with an electric and mesmerising portrayal.
Strindberg’s original play is a poignant statement about the gap between rich and poor – highlighting the often unspoken class system that was a huge factor in the 19th century – and still exists today in contemporary England.
The ill-fated ‘servant and master’ relationship between Jean and Julie involves some heady visuals, including simulated sex and even the deliberate and shocking destruction of Julie’s pet bird in a liquidiser!
No stone has been left unturned, with Julie’s excesses as a ‘spoilt rich kid’ made glaringly obvious.
Indeed, by the end of the play, her mental health deteriorates significantly, and she spirals down into the depths of torment and depression.
Obviously, the play does not end well and while this contemporary version of an old classic is stunning and spectacular, it does not in my opinion, leave the audience feeling inspired or uplifted.
Rather, Julie is more of a ‘reality check’ about the emphasis placed on money in our society, and how relationships – no matter how ‘made in heaven’ they might seem – can still depend on ‘dollars and cents’ for their success.
By Mike Peeters
Julie and Jean make a splash for the production