Mies Julie is searing theatreJennifer de Klerk
Jennifer de Klerk: Some pieces of theatre are not to be enjoyed; they are to be appreciated, recognised and remembered, somewhat uncomfortably.
Mies Julie is one. It is a searingly intense experience.
The play is based on August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, set in Sweden and written in 1888.
Director Yael Farber has rewritten and transposed it to a isolated farmhouse kitchen in the arid Karoo, present day – approximately 18 years after the end of apartheid.
Strangely enough, it works and works well. The play acquires subtext and nuances that would probably have astonished and awed Strindberg himself.
It is staged with a deliberate extra dimension of studied exposition that gives it a feel of high tragedy, an extension into the universal. Physical movement, almost dance, reveals the urges of the tortured minds, eerie music and an evocative ancestor figure embed the action into the past.
As the spoilt, sensual Julie, Hilda Cronje is physical and passionate, teasing and controlling, enjoying her power and privilege as the white “mies”.
Her target is John, the farmhand, the “kaffirboetjie”, her childhood playmate, but never, never her equal, although they were both raised by John’s mother Christine.
Resentment, anger, hurt, fear, sexual passion play their part as the two spar and wound each other in a perilous play that ends in full-on arousal (graphically portrayed on the kitchen table) and the inevitable backlash.
Bongile Mantsai is powerfully physical as John, trapped in his servile role and heritage, but straining for more.
Thoko Ntshina is magnificent as Christine, old, wise, accepting and strong – the only one to retain her integrity.
Beyond the walls, there is an ominous buzz where farmworkers are celebrating Freedom Day and a so-called new order in a world where nothing has changed.
If this is our present and future the outlook is bleak. Here are three characters so bound by their history that no compromise becomes possible. Instead they play out their obsessions with a doomed inevitability.
This is superb and telling theatre. It won accolades at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and recently in New York. I’m not surprised.
Mies Julie, a Baxter Theatre production, is at the Laager, Market Theatre, until February 24.
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za
Market Theatre Complex, Newtown Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa