Mies Julie

Assembly Rooms

Loading article content

Until August 27

Reviewed by Mark Brown

SINCE it premiered on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, South African dramatist Yael Farber's adaptation of Strinderg's classic Miss Julie has gained international plaudits. They are, as this welcome return to Edinburgh attests, richly deserved.

The piece is written and directed by Farber, and staged by the Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town. Colliding the impossibly distorted class and gender relations of the Swedish bard's late-19th century drama with the uneasy racial politics of post-apartheid South Africa, it is, surely, one of the most powerful theatre productions of the past decade.

Set on an oppressively hot, Afrikaner-owned farm, it explores the mangled relationship between Julie (the landowner's daughter) and John (the black farm worker who has known her since she was born). From the moment the brilliant Hilda Cronje's Julie first comes on stage, sweating from the heat of the Western Cape, the piece is consumed by the tragic, timeless dance between sex and death.

Played on a bleak, minimalist set, the production is enveloped by a rumbling, premonitory soundscape and the atmospheric sound of a live saxophone. As the lethal attraction between Julie and John plays out, desire and affection conflict brutally with fear and racial resentment.

Farber has an extraordinary, unerring ability to make Strindberg's metaphors serve the context of the new South Africa in its painful birth pangs. The piece ingeniously evokes the conflict between the ancestral agony of dispossessed black South Africans and the supposed property rights of the Afrikaner landowners; not least through the anguished attachment to the land of John's mother, Christine (the excellent Zoleka Helesi), and the plaintive, haunting song of Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa.

Built around the superb pairing of Cronje and Bongile Mantsai (a resoundingly conflicted John), this is Fringe theatre at its very best.