Following acclaimed runs at the Edinburgh Festival and in New York, Mies Julie brings its poignant depiction of power and identity to Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios.
Based on Miss Julie, the 1888 play by August Strindberg, this adaptation moves the scene from a landed Swedish estate to an isolated South African farm in the years after the end of apartheid.
Title character Julie, the daughter of a rich land-owner, sweeps drunkenly onto the scene, her body whirling through the house like a Dervish. Farmhand John simply tries to go about his business, perhaps no longer a slave in name but still bound to the whims of his white masters.
In the early parts of the play, director Yael Farber does a superb job presenting the struggle for self in both lead characters. Hilda Cronje’s Julie is impish and often spiteful, happy to treat John like a dog at times whilst lionising him at others as the uneven stitching behind her façade is revealed. By contrast, John seems poised, oaken, and yet he too reveals the painful issues – personal, emotional, political – that play behind his stiff exterior.
As the pair become closer, the swings in emotion can feel a little contrived. Feelings change rapidly, and lust and love intertwine so quickly as to leave serious blanks about the real motives of the characters.
Nevertheless, Mies Julie is still an entirely gripping production. The acting is intensely physical, the emotional confluence between Julie and John is played out in a way that is part ballet, part brute force. A simple yet jolting soundtrack – a creaking gate, a leaking tap – also serves to ratchet the tension, while the cracked tiles of the set grow increasingly symbolic as we learn some of the history of this place and its inhabitants.
Although Mies Julie perhaps overstretches at times, it is still a hugely arresting piece of physical theatre. It displays a deep sentiment centred on the whirling currents that form each of us and how these forces can pervade and prejudice our personal relationships.
Mies Julie is at Riverside Studios until 19th May 2013. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.