Writer: Yael Farber (after August Strindberg)
Director: Yael Farber
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
A smash hit in 2012, Mies Julie returns to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of the Baxter Theatre Season. Based on August Strindberg’s classic play with its strong themes of gender and class, this version is transported to post-Apartheid South Africa; superbly adapted, modernised and staged by Yael Farber.
Julie (Hilda Cronje) is the daughter of the wealthy landowner that John (Bongile Mantsai) and his mother Christine (Zoleka Helesi) work for. Unhappy and seemingly “wild”, Julie initially taunts John, using her sexuality as a weapon against a man of lower status. As she begins to be seduced, however, the power starts to shift and an avalanche of consequences are set in motion.
In this modern imagining, traditional music and local parlance are employed to imbue the production with the songs and sounds of the Veld. Coupled with a feeling of oppressive heat and overriding tension, Cronje and Mantasai create a highly-charged atmosphere that finally boils over.
The physicality of the production is arresting, highlighting both the passion and underlying violence that is always at hand. Both Mantasai and Cronje show real range, each making a huge emotional journey in a very short time while wowing the audience with their dynamic movement. Helesi is superb as Christine, a character reinvented as John’s mother, who is haunted by dreams and wedded to the house she was born in. The spectre of ancestors and the importance of the land to both families underscore the piece, particularly with Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa’s presence on stage throughout. Julie’s mother, and her suicide, is often mentioned, with portentous references to the blood Christine has had to scrub from the kitchen floor.
A spectacular production that fuses all aspects to bombard the senses, it was a terrible shame that it was so difficult to hear the text, particularly in the early part of the piece. The impact of the Xhosa and Afrikaans lines, and some of the more conversational interplay, was often lost in a wash of sound that was swallowed by the space. That said, the piece was so visually striking, and the stakes so high, that you could not help but be drawn in and go with the characters full pace towards their inescapable end.
Runs until 27th August 2017 | Image: Contributed