Review: Julie, National Theatre

An elegant and occasionally startling adaptation, Julie at the National Theatre is anchored by mesmerising performances from Vanessa Kirby and Thalissa Teixeira 

“If anyone has had anyone, I’ve had you

It’s Julie’s party and she’ll cry if she wants to, shag someone else’s fella if she wants to, use a blender in a somewhat inappropriate way if she wants to. Would you cry too if it happened to you? Chance would be a fine thing, as Julie is a trust fund baby and her 30-something birthday party is taking place in the antiseptic chic of the vast Hampstead townhouse where she resides with her (often absent) father and their staff. 

Carrie Cracknell’s direction of Polly Stenham’s Julie (after Strindberg, as opposed to Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie) and Vanessa Kirby’s performance of that title role does something rather unexpected in the way it fleshes out and makes more complex its anti-hero. She’s still a straight-up entitled bitch to be sure, but we’re shown that she’s part of a cycle of sadness and abuse and neglect. And we’re dared to empathise. Continue reading “Review: Julie, National Theatre”

Review: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican

“Als ik, heel even maar desnoods, mijn masker zou afzetten en zou zeggen wat ik voelde of dacht, zouden jullie je razernij tegen mij keren”

Toneelgroep Amsterdam have made the Barbican their base pretty much every time they’ve visited London, so it was little surprise that is where their 2017 residency was announced. We say residency, the peripatetic nature and ferocious workrate of this Dutch company meaning that it contained three shows spread over six months (Roman Tragedies, Obsession, and this Ingmar Bergman double bill) all of which have managed to provoke strong opinions.

I’d be fascinated to know the reason behind choosing After The Rehearsal / Persona out of all of the shows in their considerable repertory (it also tours to Santiago, Chile and Washington DC). Created in 2012, it brings together two pieces written for the screen by the Swede into a long haul of an evening, close to three hours of occasionally impenetrable Swedish existential angst. It contains some of the directorial flourish that has made van Hove’s name, plus it stars the remarkable Marieke Heebink but there’s no denying I found it a challenge.  Continue reading “Review: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican”

Review: After Miss Julie, Richmond Theatre

“Don’t confuse my appetites”

After a momentous political decision, some people celebrate whilst others ponder the uncertainty of their situation. You don’t have to strain too hard to find touches of resonance in the opening scenes of After Miss Julie even if the subject matter is ultimately quite different, the febrile atmosphere of that moment of the beginning of huge political change proving to be recognisable no matter the period.

Patrick Marber’s reimagining of August Strindberg’s tragedy Miss Julie moves the story from Sweden in 1888 to England in 1945, maintaining an environment where the class struggle is real but is on the cusp of great change after Labour’s landslide victory. And in the country house that her father has left for the night, the aristocratic Miss Julie has set her sights on a cheeky pas de deux with her father’s chauffeur John, scandalising the whole household with this transgression of the social order. Continue reading “Review: After Miss Julie, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Creditors, Young Vic

“You’re drawing my secrets from me. You’re pulling out my guts and when you go you’ll leave nothing but an empty shell around you.”

The Genesis Future Directors Award aims to nurture promising talent by plugging them into the creative network of the Young Vic and using this opportunity, 2015 winner Rikki Henry has chosen to present David Greig’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Creditors in the Clare Theatre there. Truth be told I’m not the biggest fan of the Swede and so I’ve never actually seen this play before but I know enough to know that Henry has tinkered with it to gay it up just a little.

So Tekla becomes a man and the play becomes a study of the corrosive effects of love gone awry, the love that used to dare not speak its name that is, refracted through the prism of gay marriage. Creative souls Adolph and Tekla are seemingly loved up but their marriage comes under scrutiny when the enigmatic Gustav appears on the scene whilst Tesla is away to successfully plant seeds of doubt in Adolph’s mind and expose what it truly means to give yourself to someone.  Continue reading “Review: Creditors, Young Vic”

Review: Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva

 Miss Julie is in complete denial about the whole thing”

Something of a random double-bill – August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (adapted here by Rebecca Lenkiwicz) and Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy have previously been put together here at Chichester and so once again, they’re programmed as an engagement in the Minerva, partly cross-cast in a production by actor-increasingly-turned-director Jamie Glover. Each show has its merits but putting them together didn’t really add anything to the experience for me. 

Lenkiewicz’s version is solid rather than inspirational – the play has been adapted so many times now, it feels almost more surprising not to remove it from its original context. And consequently there’s no escaping the more misogynistic edges of the writing without the filter of another time. The glorious Rosalie Craig is excellent though as the titular, brittle aristocrat who can’t resist visits downstairs to bit of rough Jean, her father’s valet who is engaged to a kitchen maid. Continue reading “Review: Miss Julie / Black Comedy, Minerva”

Review: About Miss Julie, King’s Head Theatre

“I’m a woman of…simple pleasures” 

Miss Julie has proved an enduring classic over the years, not least because of its timeless malleability, the strength of Strindberg’s writing able to bear the weight of any conceit or concept that a director might throw at it. So it is perhaps little surprise that adaptors have taken it a step further – Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie relocated to 1945 to a just-post-war England on the cusp of great change and similarly, Jonathan Sidgwick’s About Miss Julie has shifted the play to the UK after another great conflict.

Specifically it is 1923 – the First World War may be over but the aftershocks of its seismic upheaval are still rippling through all levels of society. Aristocrat Miss Julie is longing for a return to the carefree status quo, handsome butler John is still carrying the trauma of life in the trenches with him and Christine, his fiancée, has been empowered by her experiences as a suffragette and as a working woman in the war, so a life of service in her master’s kitchen no longer seems quite enough. Thus sex, power, class, violence, even Julie’s budgie all intersect over one torrid Midsummer’s eve. Continue reading “Review: About Miss Julie, King’s Head Theatre”

Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4

“Love between sexes is war”

Laurie Slade’s adaptation of Strindberg’s The Father was commissioned for Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre last year, but now makes its radio debut as part of Radio 3 season of classics focusing on the changes for women in the late nineteenth century. It is a blistering look at the power struggle in a marriage as two middle-class parents differ hugely on the upbringing of their daughter and clash monumentously in an all-out war to get their own way.

The decks are hardly equally stacked in this version of the battle of the sexes, Strindberg’s own response to Ibsen’s novel take on gender relations in A Doll’s House, as Laura unleashes the limited tools at her disposal to blacken the name of the Captain and cast seeds of doubt about the paternity of Bertha, literally stopping at nothing as the thin line between love and hate drives her to ever more extreme action. Continue reading “Review: The Father / The Broken Word, Radio 3/4”

Review: Dances of Death, Gate Theatre

“My nature may be flawed but I struggle to overcome it”

Is there anything more annoying than someone else having the same good idea as you at more or less the same time. Given the length of time it must take to actually commission a new version of a play and bring it to the stage, who knows when or whether these two coincided but either way, London now has its second new adaptation of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death in six months. Conor McPherson refreshed the play as part of the Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 but here at the Gate Theatre, Howard Brenton has taken a slightly different tack, incorporating the lesser seen second part to create Dances of Death

The play, as with much of Strindberg’s work, is a barrel of laughs. Edgar and Alice live on a remote Swedish island which is dominated by a military barracks but though they have been married for nearly 30 years, their relationship has deteriorated into a bitterly toxic mess as their disappointments in each other and the world around them has poisoned them to the point where it is this very hatred that sustains them. So much so, that the arrival of Kurt, a figure from their past, merely offers a new dimension to their war games as opposed to a potential exit strategy. It is vicious, bitter stuff, and in the intimacy of the Gate, ought to be near-unbearable. Continue reading “Review: Dances of Death, Gate Theatre”

Review: The Dance of Death, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2

“I knew you’d pull that sausage out of the sack”

The Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 continues to showcase the work of new directors and now sees Titas Halder taking on the 1900 Strindberg play The Dance of Death, in a new version by Conor McPherson. Edgar and Alice are fast approaching their 25th wedding anniversary but their marriage has grown toxic. On the isolated Swedish island where they reside, life in a cloistered military garrison has turned them in on each other – the 15 years younger Alice bemoans the acting career she left behind, Edgar’s health is failing dramatically and yet they still persist in clashing their embittered selves right up against each other.

Richard Kent’s set design works very well at making the already intimate Trafalgar Studios 2 space even more claustrophobic and visibly demonstrates the decay of the physical environment of this couple, right alongside their mutual emotional neglect. But where the psychodrama of this story frequently calls to mind Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it never really mines similar tragicomic depths. Halder’s production of McPherson’s new version has a keen eye for the desperate comedy of the situation but consequently leaves it a little unbalanced. Continue reading “Review: The Dance of Death, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Mademoiselle Julie, Barbican

“A qui la faute”

Lyn Gardner recently wrote an interesting piece in the Guardian theatre blog about her desire to see more British directors taking a radical approach to classic plays. She used as her prime example for them to take inspiration from as Benedict Andrews’ modern take on Three Sisters at the Young Vic which has been by and large rapturously received, whilst I found it a highly problematic interpretation. And ever the contrarian, I was surprised to find that the critical reception for Mademoiselle Julie – whose run at the Barbican has just finished – was decidedly lukewarm, given that I thought it was excellent. Between directorial innovations, re-readings of the texts and the behaviours of our own critics, it strikes me that there’s something odd about such a dichotomy.

I ought to begin by confessing my complete love for Juliette Binoche. Way back last year when this was first announced (along with Cate Blanchett, that was a good day!), I didn’t hesitate to fork out considerably more money that I am used to in order to get some great stalls seats and it was well worth it, for me at least, and not just because of the thrill of seeing Binoche acting in her mother tongue. Frédéric Fisbach’s production was first seen at the 2011 Festival d’Avignon and re-stages Strindberg’s play in the coolly modernist setting of a swanky penthouse, superbly designed by Laurent P Berger. Terje Sinding has translated the text into French but without updating it, so there are undoubtedly moments where a literal reading of the words creates tension – the nineteenth century references at odds with this contemporary world – the questions of gender hypocrisy, the transience of sexual desire as the basis for relationships and the potentially transformative power of love remain at the heart of the play.  Continue reading “Review: Mademoiselle Julie, Barbican”