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: Hotel, National Theatre

“It’s the same old colonial shit, just dressed in the shiny drag of free market capitalism”

Though Polly Stenham has been definitively anointed the next big thing by any number of feature writers, her repeated brand of “posh dysfunction” (I’m borrowing this from someone but I forget exactly who) has never really got my pulse racing. So when Hotel, her play for the National Theatre’s formerly-The-Shed-but-now-called-The-Temporary-Space-I-think, opens with two precocious teenagers and two bourgeois parents all suffering from the malaise of being that only a holiday to a luxurious African island resort can cure, my heart did verily sink.

Mother Vivienne has just had to resign from the cabinet due to a sex scandal that has engulfed her stay-at-home husband Robert whilst kids Ralph and Frankie look on bemusedly although not without some deeper connection as it turns out. But as we settle down for (yet another) family drama, Stenham pulls out the rug from us (and them) with a massive tonal shift which throws everyone off-balance, so much so that I’m not sure we ever regain a satisfactory equilibrium between the two very different parts of the play. Continue reading “Review: Hotel, National Theatre”

Review: No Quarter, Royal Court

“I would punch a baby for a cigarette”

During Dominic Cooke’s reign, the Royal Court has done an excellent job in nurturing a generation of new young female playwrights and Polly Stenham surely has to be considered as one of the breakout successes from this cohort, managing to maintain an air of great anticipation alongside a unhurried workrate. Her third play No Quarter, for the Royal Court as with That Face and Tusk Tusk, occupies similar territory as her earlier work, in the chronicling of dysfunction in families of the more privileged classes, but it could be said it is with diminishing returns.

24 year old music school dropout Robin has lost himself in a haze of drink and drugs but when he returns to the dilapidated manor house that is his family home, it is to the suffocatingly intense embrace of his dementia-stricken mother who wants his help to ease her way into death. But when he finds that the home he thought he would inherit has actually been sold from under him to developers, his self-destructive instincts kick in and the night of her wake sees him attract an assorted crowd for a wild party to end all parties, anything to avoid confronting the enduring malaise that weighs him down. Continue reading “Review: No Quarter, Royal Court”

Review: Tusk Tusk, Royal Court

One of the most hyped new playwrights in the country, Polly Stenham had a lot of expectation weighing on her with her follow-up to That Face, but with Tusk Tusk she has delivered a play, that whilst superficially looks to tread similar ground, is most definitely its own beast. The play opens with three kids, 7, 14 and 15 nearly 16 in their living room surrounded by unopened packing cases, living in gay abandon, sleeping during the daytime, staying awake all night and surviving on Chinese takeaways and crisps. These scenes are cracking, with sparkling dialogue between the three and a real sense of fun and camaraderie is built up very quickly. However, as the days go by, the mystery and unease at the situation increases as one realises that all has not been well with the mother for whom they are waiting.

Given that the three leads are each making their stage debuts, their performances are nothing short of extraordinary. Toby Regbo as Eliot and Bel Powley as Maggie both exude a wonderful wittiness and cockiness, often belying their young ages, but also in their different ways, show the damage that their situation has done to them. Eliot as the oldest has to deal with the stresses of becoming the de facto head of the household, whilst Maggie has the weight of a terrible secret to bear, and the pair of them show these nuances with a deftness of touch which would indicate that they should have no problem secuing future work on the stage. The youngest, Finn played by Finn Bennett is also heartbreakingly good, to the point where I was genuinely worried for his welfare at the interval! Continue reading “Review: Tusk Tusk, Royal Court”