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Even with minimum tweaking, Strindberg’s 1888 domestic drama fits perfectly into a 21st century South African setting.

Director and writer Yael Farber takes things even further, giving us not just a doomed love affair which crosses social boundaries but one that – albeit briefly – transcends  racial ones and is a fight for the land as well. 

Instead of a triangle involving the daughter of a Swedish count, his cook Christine and her valet fiancé, Farber gives us an emotionally unstable young Afrikaans woman who taunts and verbally abuses her father’s Xhosa servant John in a sadomasochistic power struggle which, even in post-Apartheid South Africa, can still only end in tragedy.

And Faber’s Christine (Thoko Ntshinga) is here John’s hardworking mother who, ironically, devoted more time to bringing up Julie than her own son.

The ghosts of the past haunt the stage in the shape of Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa’s Ancestor, her other-worldly chanting an eerie background to the growing tension in this brutally physical, visceral production.

And as the Freedom Day celebrations continue out of sight, the body heat emanating from Bongile Mantsai’s John and Hilda Cronje’s Julie is as palpable as the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Karoo farmstead to which they both lay claim. 

Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, W6 9RL
Tube | Hammersmith
Until 19th May
£25 - £26

Photo: William Burdett-Coutts


Mies Julie - theatre review: Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
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