Carrie Cracknell has modernised August Strindberg’s classic, Miss Julie, with Eric Kofi Abrefa (Jean) playing opposite Vanessa Kirby in the titular role.
Wild, newly single, upper-class socialite Julie throws a late night birthday party. In the kitchen, domestic staff and lovers, Jean and Kristine clean up as the celebration heaves above them.
Crossing the threshold, Julie initiates a power game with Jean. It descends into a savage fight for survival.
This whole play grated on my skin as a black woman. What was fascinating was watching how it grated on other members of the audience as well, but all for different reasons. However, I don’t hate that it grated, as I think this was its purpose.
It grates because this play was speaking out loud all the dark thoughts which undercurrent our society like a watchful guillotine blade, ever present, ever waiting to destroy our progression as a species.
It’s feminism vs misogyny. #blacklivesmatter vs #alllivesmatter. #metoo vs #slutshaming. It asks the question of how far have we really progressed as a society? Is evolution really just reversion to the prehistoric? To a basic instinct to survive at all costs?
The grating was especially, ‘metal on China’ painful in the second half, post the sad-but-expected tension breaking event between Julie and Jean when the post-coital bliss loosens everyone’s tongues and what we then watch is the fallout from the nuclear explosion that is the, “what do we do now?” question. The accidental dialogue slips from each character, suggesting our preconceived assumptions about race, class, and gender had the audience’s Jaws permanently dislocated and resting on the floor.
The production did blow my mind though. Compared to Kirby’s perpetually high, perfectly timed and coked up Julie, Abrefa gave wonderful balance with his realistic, reasonable and yet, almost naive Jean, whom thinks he can have it all if he just believes hard enough.
Thalissa Teixeira, who plays Kristin, is definitely one to watch. She tops and tails the action in a glorious way, finishing the play with a fantastic monologue where she has to make sense of all that has occurred in her absence. I am haunted especially by a line of hers delivered in disappointment to Jean, in which she says “I hoped you would surprise me”.
This line for me embodies so much of what is wrong with the mechanisms of male / female interactions, especially when it comes to black men and women. This expectation that black men are programmed to hurt us, throw us aside and not care, almost seems to give us license to expect it from them, to the point that we see the idea of voicing our hurt beyond the one sentence as feeding into the stereotype of the angry black woman and therefore unnecessary and “extra”. We run so far from this one-sided story that we fall into another that of the stoically strong black woman who shows no pain, even when fully warranted.
I could write a much longer piece about this show but all in all, it delivers. Theatre is meant to make you feel and this. Its ephemeral and visceral movement choreography, set, lighting, direction, and overall performance sucks you in and throws you out on the other side, almost as if you were in the party yourself, high on doing too many lines, and fearing the comedown as the sun comes up.
See Julie if you can. You will never forget it.
Julie runs at The National Theatre. Playing until 8 September find out more and book your tickets here.