Theatre review - Mies Julie

Posted on: 03 April 2013 by Agatha Cheng

Laurence Green reviews Yael Farber’s production of Strindberg’s classic play Mies Julie at the Riverside Studios.

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A battle over power, sexuality, memory, mothers and lands provides the driving force of Yael Farber’s combustible production of Strindberg’s 1888 classic play Mies Julie (Riverside Studios), in which the action is relocated to a post-apartheid South Africa.

On a Karoo farm the labours are celebrating Freedom Day but in a hot, steamy kitchen of the farm, things are very much the same as they have always been. The boss’s boots are laid out for shining by black labourer John, whose mother Christine has been working since sunrise and whose fingers are so worn that when she tried to vote, she had no fingerprints to prove her identity. But beneath it all things are stirring and the boss’s discontented daughter Julie paces around the kitchen like a feral animal on heat looking for trouble. A single night of brutality and tenderness then unfolds between the black farm labourer and his whiter master’s daughter. The visceral struggles of contemporary South Africa are laid bare as the couple’s deadly attraction spirals out of control.

This is a searing, intense and erotically changed version of Strindberg’s dance of death which was a big hit at last year’s Edinburgh International Festival. But the dialogue here is at times heavy handed and the lacerating remarks exchanged by the protagonists in a tit-for-tat fashion feels repetitive and as John’s grievances switch from the personal to the political, the tone is didactic. The production is also rather over sexually explicit – there is enough in Strindberg’s original to shock without the need to embellish it.

However director Yael Farber elicits electrifying performances from her excellent cast namely Hilda Cronje as Julie, Bongile Mantsai as John and Thoko Ntshinga as Christine, while the singer and musicians that are seated at the side of the stage do much to enhance the atmosphere and mood of the piece.

And there is no denying the energy and commitment of a production that blazes with raw emotion.

Run until May 19

Box office: 020 8237 1111

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