With the Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town and the South African State Theatre, Yael Farber takes August Strindberg’s 19th century play and transplants it to a remote farm in the Karoo Desert, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of apartheid in South Africa, Mies Julie is a sensual, emotionally wrought play that will leave you breathless.
When entering the intimate theatre, a layer of smoke hangs in the air. A woman dressed in white sits in silence on the far right as patrons file in. She is a spectre who will haunt the stage for the rest of the evening. The play begins with the ghostly woman circling the stage as she sings. The players enter the stage from the audience: Christine (Thoko Ntshinga) is Veenan Plaas’ long time housekeeper; John (Bongile Mantsai), Christine’s son, the strong and responsible farmhand; and lastly the titular character, Mies Julie (Hilda Cronje), the restless daughter of the nameless farm master. For the next ninety minutes each character reveals their histories, desires, and pain.
The play takes place in the farm’s kitchen, a farm that was built by Mies Julie’s great-great grandfather on top of the bones of John and Christine’s ancestors. The farm serves as their home and their prison. The focus of the play is the relationship between John and Mies Julie, their childhood, their relationship with their mothers, the farm, and the power struggle between them where race and gender intersect with anger, passion, and euphoria. Mies Julie offers an honest and raw display of sex, desire, regret, and grief; the tension grows with each scene, bringing us closer to the catastrophic end, where freedom waits.
Faber does an excellent job of compressing the racial and political tensions that exist in present day South Africa, without removing any of its complexities while still remaining true to Strindberg’s themes of lust and the struggle between the sexes. Those familiar with the original work, will enjoy this fantastic update, while those new to the story will be able to glimpse into the heart of a newly freed country struggling to find its identity.
You can catch Mies Julie until May 3rd at Place des Arts, Cinquième Salle, tickets are $27.00 for youth, and $32.00 for everyone else. In English with French subtitles.
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