What shocked spectators in 1888 is certainly not enough to affect today’s audiences to the same extent. The Baxter Theatre Centre addresses the almighty question: how do you completely disarm the contemporary spectator who has seen it all? Mies Julie, written and directed by Yaël Farber, takes August Strindberg’s classic, Miss Julie, and flips it on its head, delivering a passion-filled, culturally-infused drama that takes its audience on an emotional roller coaster ride. A journey that is bound to be engraved in your minds – completely relevant and unforgettable.
It has been twenty years since apartheid in South Africa, and not much has changed. John (Bongile Mantsai) and Christine (Zoleka Helesi) work tirelessly at scrubbing the floors and buffing the boots of their white master, while Julie (Hilda Cronje), the master’s daughter, loses her mind, dancing around the house like a madwoman – a repercussion of the smoldering heat, the excess wine and the cancellation of her wedding.
A woman who never had a thought that she had not derived from her father, nor a passion not brought on by her mother, is in search of a self. She tests the boundaries of the petrified John, who is bound by his obedience to his master, yet afflicted by the love he has felt for Julie, ever since they were children. After a hazy night of passion and violence, the confused pair cannot take back their actions. With no money and nowhere to go, the two are stuck in Julie’s father’s house, left to await their impending demise. Mantsai and Cronje’s stunning stage presence and physicality have you completely captivated by the train wreck that is their lives.
The set and lighting design, by Patrick Curtis, is not overly elaborate in any way, but makes you feel just the way you should: claustrophobic, choked and hot, unable to escape the madness of this kitchen we are all bound to. With the warm wash lighting design and the smoke-filled air, I think the audience took their first steady breath during the curtain call.
The Baxter Theatre Centre’s team of musicians (Daniel Pencer, Matthew Pencer, Brydon Bolton and Mark Fransman) as well as the talented vocals of singer Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa, contributed wildly to the horrific nature of the show. With South African music being sung by the apparition of John and Christine’s ancestors, combined with the continual droning soundscape piercing our ears, I was thoroughly disturbed and found myself cringing on several occasions, wanting, yet frightened to see the action that awaited me.
We all know the story of Miss Julie, but this adaptation is fresh and revitalized – the farthest thing from predictable. The Baxter Theatre Centre amps up the discomfort of this production to its full capacity, with potent images of blood, gore, nudity and sexuality that will make the bile rise in your throat and have you leave feeling slightly more nauseous than expected. Positively phenomenal on every level.
Mies Julie runs until May 10 at the Habourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay W). For tickets and information, visit http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/worldstage/miesjulie/.