Review: Julie, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam

Rebecca Frecknall makes her Internationaal Theater Amsterdam debut with Julie, her striking take on Strindberg

“Een meisje zijn is een nachtmerrie op zich”

Strindberg’s Miss Julie has long proved a popular choice for adaptation as much as performance and so it continues as Rebecca Frecknall turns to the Norwegian playwright’s 1888 drama to inspire her debut production for Internationaal Theater Amsterdam. She acts as both adaptor and director on on the Dutch-language Julie, made accessible to Engelse volk by English surtitles at a couple of performances during the run.

Like Polly Stenham, Frecknall relocates her production to a contemporary setting, perfectly captured in the design of Chloe Lamford’s showroom-perfect brushed-steel kitchen. It is there that Julie seeks escape, from her 21st birthday party in the first instance but also from from the strictures of her life as the daughter of a very rich man. It is also there that she finds the seductive figure of John, her father’s driver, but also Christine, the housekeeper and John’s wife.

Desire crackles through the air, sexual yes but also something more elemental too. Eefe Paddenburg’s Julie in her glittering dress is the twisted heart, frustrated and frustrating as she writhes against the lack of agency she has in her own life but wields what power she does have over those of lower social status. As she edges John to the precipice, drawn to his own rebellious streak, there’s no doubting the cruelty of hurt people hurting people.

Minne Koole and Hannah Hoekstra bring earthiness to newlyweds John and Christine, painfully aware that society will keep them in their place, no matter their dreams. Attracted to the shiny object that Julie appears to be, John can’t help but be led by his dick whereas Christine digs deep to remain resolute in the face of such indignities. Above all, the sense of loneliness that pervades this household is what shines through.

Frecknall’s predilection for reinventing a classic (Cabaret, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke) thus continues apace but in this case, I’m not sure it is entirely revelatory in the end. Perhaps it is the familiarity with the material, perhaps it is the increasing familiarity with her approach, in any case her work remains entirely watchable. And in the final moments, with a truly stunning mise-en-scène, you remember just what all the fuss is about.

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