Theatre review: Mies Julie, Riverside Theatre, London - Reviews - Theatre & Dance - The Independent

Theatre review: Mies Julie, Riverside Theatre, London

5.00

 

Last autumn, the Barbican played host to Mademoiselle Julie, a French production of Strindberg's 1888 classic that turned the play into a chicly timeless existential conflict. 

By removing any real sense of taboo-fostering social constraint, it neutered a play in which the sexual charge and the political challenges are indivisible. Strindberg's essential master/slave dynamic is reinstated with a breathtaking vengeance now in Mies Julie, an adaptation that transplants the proceedings to post-apartheid South Africa and to the hot, steamy kitchen of a farm in the semi-desert Karoo region on Freedom Day 2012. 

Outside the workers are growing volatile and there's “anger on the wind”. Inside, the sexual tension is building towards an orgasm of violence and false release for Mies Julie, the Afrikaans daughter of the proprietor and John, the Xhosan servant. As the former, Hilda Cronje, a slinky sullen slip of a thing, keeps veering, with coldly burning caprice, from come-on to contempt. Bongile Mantsai's strapping John blacks his master's boots with a fierce distracted agitation more as brooding displacement activity than as duty. In the adaptor's own electric production (first seen at the Edinburgh fringe lase summer), these actors perform the dance of death with a disciplined erotic abandon that reminded me, at times, of the work of DV8.

Yael Farber's version diverges in several sharply significant ways from the original.  In Strindberg, Christine is John's fiancé. Here she is his mother who is still, in weary old age, treated as a skivvy.   She also had to be a loving mother to the neglected Julie and this has bred in John an adoration of his privileged white counterpart that is actually reversed resentment and self-hatred.  The mother's stoic mix of the fatalistic and the pragmatic is projected with massive dignity by Thoko Ntshinga.  A tree-stump protrudes through the terracotta-tiled floor and there's a tremendous sense that the ground under the kitchen is a microcosm of the land expropriated from the blacks.

To emphasise this further, Farber introduces a fourth character, Ukhokho (a transfixing Tandiwe Nifirst Lungisa). She is an other-worldly Xhosan ancestor – at once spectral and very solidly and implacably there, as she creates sounds of utterly arresting unearthliness. At one point, she emits a low guttural drone that would be the envy of Louis Armstrong. And, at the start, she makes a slow, eerie, ceremonial progress to the stage where she bats that famous birdcage and send its on a queasy pendulum arc. Oh and John does not go back to blacking his master's boots.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week