Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Review: Mies Julie

Riverside Studios, London W6

    South African writer/director Yael Farber has taken successful reinterpretations of classics around the world before. But none has had the impact of this updated Strindberg.

    Farber has re-energised the Swedish dramatist's 1888 play with a political and sexual charge. The setting is not an aristocratic house but a South African farmstead. And the barrier that keeps the owner's daughter Julie from being with John - the male servant with whom she flirts to the point of forbidden consummation - is not just status, but colour.

    It's Freedom Day, which in modern South Africa marks the moment when such barriers are meant to no longer exist. But like much of the country, this farm's land in the arid Karoo is owned by whites, and worked by blacks.

    This isn't the first attempt to modify this dated play. Patrick Marber's version set it in post-war England. Farber's work though has the feel of a definitive re-imagining. The character of Christine has been changed from John's fiancé to his mother (Thoko Ntshinga) which only adds to the obligations expected of her son. Julie is similarly attached to her (unseen) father, "the master" who, she tells John, would shoot the black man who touches her. Then she entices him to dance.

    Getting out of this kitchen if it gets too hot is not an option. Hilde Cronje's Julie, wearing a skirt with a thigh-length split, turns up the heat to a level that drives Bongile Mantsai's muscular John to distraction. Sexual chemistry doesn't say it. This is fission. Mantsai and Cronje are superb, the latter flashing Boer tough-as-nails pride and then a tenderness that cannot survive in this wilderness.

    None of this would mean much however if Farber's version didn't fit so well into this context. Often, updating a play asks audiences to turn a blind eye to characters whose behaviour is better suited to the period for which they were created. It was this credibility gap that prevented Benedict Andrews's recent updated version of Chekhov's Three Sisters from firing on all cylinders.

    Here, every action and word feels true. As does the bleak mood of the piece - a mood embodied by an unforgettable Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa who plays a spiritual figure, intoning ancient music as she walks the farm's perimeter.

    This Strindberg play hasn't just been updated, it's been immortalised. (www.riversidestudios.co.uk)

The Jewish Chronicle

School of Rock

John Nathan

Friday, November 25, 2016

School of Rock
The Jewish Chronicle

Review: Dead Funny

John Nathan

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: Dead Funny
Theatre

Review: Ragtime

John Nathan

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: Ragtime
The Jewish Chronicle

Reviews: King Lear

John Nathan

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reviews: King Lear
Theatre

The comics' Talmudist

Elisa Bray

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The comics' Talmudist
Theatre

Kindertransport

John Nathan

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Kindertransport
Theatre

Review: The Last Five Years

John Nathan

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: The Last Five Years
Theatre

Review: The Dresser

John Nathan

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: The Dresser
Theatre

Review: The Boys in the Band

John Nathan

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: The Boys in the Band