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Review: Vanessa Kirby plays an unravelling modern, rich bitch Julie, National Theatre

The big test for this production is in how you feel about Julie at the end

Polly Stenham's modern version of Strindberg's Miss Julie sees the titular character (played by Vanessa Kirby) as a coke snorting, rich bitch and Jean (Eric Kofi Abrefa) as her father's ambitious chauffeur.

Julie National theatreOpening to the pounding clubby beats of Julie's birthday party she is in the crowd of guests but not really part of it, something which will be played on throughout the play as party-goers drift in and out without paying her any attention.

Easy to dislike

Kirby gives her a convincing complexity. She is easy to dislike - a manipulator with petulant and combustible mood swings. A woman of a privileged who takes no responsibility and can only be trusted with pocket money from her trust fund.

Her father, we hear, avoids her when she drinks because it reminds him of her mother who committed suicide.

If it isn't to get his attention perhaps it is punishment for his new relationship.

Backdrop of grief

Her mother is key to unlocking Julie. Her behaviour has to be viewed against a backdrop of grief and perhaps even post-traumatic shock having been the one to find the body. 

She's also recently been painfully dumped by her fiance; all fuel to add to her fiery behaviour and the relationship that will unfold between her and Jean.

He seems decent enough to start with but perhaps Julie is she right in her assessment that he is interested in her for her money. Does she offer him an escape route or has he really had eyes for her for years?

Stenham's script plays more heavily on the fact that Jean is already in a relationship with Christine (Thalissa Teixeira) who is probably the closest Julie has to a friend.

Heated flirtation

Rather it being her father's imminent return adding tension to their increasingly heated flirtation it is Christine finding out, after all, sleeping with the chauffeur hardly has the same air of scandal in 2018 as it did in 1888.

There are some interesting decisions around the infamous budgie scene.

The 'beloved' bird hitherto unmentioned by the animal-loving Julie meets a messy end at its mistress's hand in an act that feels like the ultimate in petulant cruelty. 

Big test

It is an action almost at the apex of her unravelling, an action pregnant in meaning and one which deserves a spot on a therapist's couch on its own.

The big test for this production is in how you feel about Julie at the end. She isn't the nicest of people and there is a lot within her own power to resolve but she's obviously damaged, hurting and lonely.

Were there any twangs of sympathy with her ending? Surprisingly there was a teeny part of me that was quietly urging someone to come to her aid.

For that, I'm giving it four stars ****.

It's 1 hour 25 without and interval and runs at the National Theatre until September 8.

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Translations, National Theatre ****- language, storytelling and leaving wanting more.