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Mies JulieA wet and gloomy cycle along the Thames promised the heat of Africa as something of a reward. The much-lauded Mies Julie resets Strindberg’s play in modern South Africa, in an attempt to bring new layers and relevance to the play; and it sort of does… but adding race and the politics of ‘truth and reconciliation’ to a play already leaden with class and gender diffuses it, leaving us unfocussed and unsure of precisely what the production is saying. Whatever the social context, when Miss Julie’s unhinged mind meets Jean’s uninhibited physicality, it’s going to be disaster. Mies Julie takes a clear line and follows it through to a hideously inevitable violent conclusion, but I wanted the characters to be free of the prerequisites of the original to respond to reality of twenty-first-century events. The violence and sex are extremely graphic and every move is cleverly considered, but it’s all too carefully choreographed and there’s no opportunity for the characters to ever appear spontaneous. A shame, as the intentions are so good. The biggest textual change is transforming the character of Christine into John’s mother rather than his potential wife, which highlights the preoccupation with ancestors and the recent past, but changes so many of John’s motivations to make the piece imbalanced. While I couldn’t get involved, I applauded the actors’ commitment, energy and courage. Interestingly, the audience was almost entirely white, and a lot of them white South African, a sad indication of the reality of the migration rate from that unhappy country.

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