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: Network, National Theatre

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”

 

 With Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film, Ivo van Hove re-asserts his place as one of the premier theatremakers working, anywhere. A satire that managed to predict just how powerful a tool populist anger can be when leveraged effectively, it is transformed into the immersive bustle of a TV studio, that of UBS Evening News where old hack Howard Beale – a transcendent performance by Bryan Cranston – has been handed his notice. Though initially appearing to accept it with good grace, he causes an almighty media stir when he declares, on air, that he’s going to kill himself, triggering a most unlikely rebirth as a truth-spilling ‘prophet’.
 
And as ever, van Hove and designer Jan Versweyveld challenge our notions of theatrical space and how it is used. An onstage restaurant puts (some) audience members right in the thick of the action, the fourth wall gets well and truly shattered, and the use of live video and big screens forces us into the role of active observers – as Beale goes live on air, do you watch Cranston himself, do you watch him onscreen, do you watch the team observing him from the producers’ box…the multiplicity of perspectives reminds us how easy it is to manipulate media, how there can always be other sides to the story.

Continue reading “Review: Network, National Theatre”

Review: The Scar Test, Soho

“I just – I can’t believe this is England”


Hannah Khalil’s intelligent exploration of the Israeli-Palestine conflict Scenes from 68* Years was one of my top-ranked plays of last year and so I was delighted to be able to see her new play The Scar Test, albeit in the oppressive, claustrophobic heat of the Soho Upstairs at the height of summer. And with that knowledge of at least some of Khalil’s theatrical style, it was a pleasure to be able to sink into her idiosyncratic storytelling and be so thoroughly challenged by its subject matter.
Here, Khalil has turned her focus to the experience of female detainees at the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre and the many, many indignities suffered by those trying to work their way through the knots and prejudices of our immigration system. And as with that previous play, multiple verbatim strands are splintered into non-linear episodes, some coalescing into something approaching an overall arc, some disappearing into the ether, forgotten victims neglected by us all.
Sara Joyce’s direction responds beautifully to the style, introducing emotive movement work from Sinead O’Keeffe which deepens in significance as it recurs throughout, the revelation of the jumpers also serving as an adroit way of exploiting these women’s bodies any further. For the grim realities of life for those who end up here, the abuses they’re running from sadly matched by the different kind of abuses suffered in the name of security, means we’re frequently left shaken by how far it goes.
The horrors that could leave a person mute (an absolutely superb Rebecca Omogbehin), the deportation to a country she’s never been to threatened to the British-born child of illegal immigrants, the desperation of the over-worked lawyers fighting for their causes, the dispassionate way with which the security guards carry out their business. Having the ensemble rotate through any number of these roles keeps a meaningful balance through the stark feelings of the play but the sombre nature of Zoe Spurr’s lighting maintains the deadly serious air. 
Fiercely felt, ferociously told, The Scar Test is the kind of discomfiting theatrical experience that lingers long in the mind for all the right reasons. Khalil has a real gift for lodging the humanity of a story right where it matters and so creates theatre that is genuinely thought-provoking – I think we’ll be talking about this writer for years to come.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 22nd July