REVIEW ROUND-UP: Julie at the National Theatre

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Carrie Cracknell directs Polly Stenham’s contemporary adaptation of August Strindberg’s classic play. But what have critics been making of it? 

The Guardian★★ “These actors do sterling work but in Stenham’s version I never felt that the tragic outcome was dictated by an inexorable dramatic force.”

The Telegraph: ★★★ “Alas, poor Vanessa Kirby. So superb as Princess Margaret in gilded Netflix hit The Crown, where she has captured to Bafta-winning perfection the playfulness and pathos of a royal caught between stifling duty, sixties London and forbidden devotion, this should have been her big moment of status-enhanced theatrical triumph.”

The Independent: “Carrie Cracknell’s production of this 80-minute piece is surprisingly low on sexual tension, though, and it makes some bad misjudgements.”

The Stage: ★★★★ “Cracknell’s direction is astonishing in its detail – like the way it repeatedly rationalises and then shatters the fantasy of Julie and Jean’s elopement, or deals with Julie’s poor pet finch – but conflicted in its scope. As a whole, Stenham’s adaptation is brilliantly clever, but a lot of the individual lines land strangely, or sound a little naff.”

Culture Whisper: ★★★ “Yet with strong performances and glossy design, it’s hard not to enjoy this take on Strindberg’s classic. Perhaps what’s best in Stenham’s update is how class distinctions are dealt with in a modern day context.”

Radio Times: ★★★ “Kirby’s mesmerising performance will stay with you long after this short play hurtles to its unhappy end.”

A Younger Theatre: “This is a beautiful staging, yet sadly the play has become a little hollow so that despite the best efforts of the actors, it just doesn’t quite do the job.”

Exeunt Magazine: “Focusing solely on the central characters, it would be easy to see this adaptation of Strindberg as something of a failure, one that loses a lot of the bite, snarl and sex. But whilst that’s true, Stenham’s rewriting is fascinating and revolutionary in a different way. For all its sympathy for Julie’s mental health, the character that really matters here is Kristina – the woman normally completely and utterly forgotten.”

Time Out: ★★★★ “Cracknell’s production is viscerally effective where Stenham’s adaptation feels soft focus.”

Evening Standard: ★★ “Stenham’s take on Strindberg is also a problem. Despite promising bold thinking about inequality, racial prejudice, sexual stereotypes and liberal hypocrisy, it proves colourless and slight. There’s an impulse to provoke, but no real sense of danger.”

Broadway World: ★★★ “As satire, there isn’t much to surprise or shock here. That money and privilege might also be accompanied by unhappiness isn’t ground-breaking, nor is the idea that inherited wealth saps purpose. If more sleek in appearance than execution, there are still moments of power and poignancy, but the tragedy doesn’t feel fully earned.”

The FT: ★★★ “But for all its psychological and political acuity, this is a staging that doesn’t rock you as it could.”

The Upcoming: ★★★ “But slick and chic as Julie is, Stenham’s update can’t escape the shallow end of the rather deep pool it’s swimming in.”

The Reviews Hub: ★★ “To work properly, all versions of Miss Julie need to be delivered as short, sharp shocks. At under 80 minutes straight through, Stenham’s version is certainly short, but its focus is often blurred and, apart from a scene which is wholly unsuitable for pet lovers, the shock waves that it sends out feel buffered.”

London Theatre1:★★★★ “My thoughts then for director Carrie Cracknell are these: trust your actors, and the writing. They’re both brilliant. Let them do the talking rather than crowd-pleasing, stagey tricks. After all, Strindberg’s philosophy was that the play should be naturalistic – not flamboyant nor theatrical.”

There Ought to be Clowns: “The result is something that looks elegant (the final image is undoubtedly stunning, even as it recalls a certain other), achingly hip in Tom Scutt’s swanky design, but which is flintily hard right beneath the surface. Look elsewhere for likeable characters, this is complicated, messy, brutal. Judging on appearances is all too easy and between them, Stenham, Cracknell and Kirby make you really think about that.”

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Emma Clarendon
Emma Clarendon studied drama through A-Level before deciding she was much better suited to writing about theatre than appearing onstage. She’s written for a number of online publications ever since, including The News Hub and Art Info. Emma set up her own blog, Love London Love Culture, in April 2015 and tweets at LoveLDNLoveCul.
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Emma Clarendon on FacebookEmma Clarendon on InstagramEmma Clarendon on Twitter
Emma Clarendon
Emma Clarendon studied drama through A-Level before deciding she was much better suited to writing about theatre than appearing onstage. She’s written for a number of online publications ever since, including The News Hub and Art Info. Emma set up her own blog, Love London Love Culture, in April 2015 and tweets at LoveLDNLoveCul.