Yael Faber has become stuff of directing legend, recently in the news with the critically-divisive Salome in the West End and future work at the Donmar now in production. After such a prolific rise to fame, it is wonderful being able to see one of her early works, 2012 smash-hit Mies Julie return to the Edinburgh stage. By god, is it a turbulent ride.
The adaptation is truly glorious. Picking apart the complexities of South African race relations we meet John, the Xhosa farm labourer, utterly enamoured by his white Afrikaans master’s daughter – the titular Mies Julie. The result is a fiercely honest, menacingly passionate torrent of contradictory emotion as John and Julie bicker, fight and fuck before the tale leads to its grisly confusion.
The overriding discussion focusses on power. Who has control over who – whether politically, physically, emotionally or sexually, all the buried and unburied conflict of the apartheid area bursts to the surface, sizzling and spitting. It is an electric watch, both performers totally confident slapping, spitting and throwing each other all over the shop – giving the staidness of the original a buzzing physicality.
However, having said this, there were times when this power seemed almost too much. There was so much at stake, all the time, the audience didn’t get any chance to take breath – leaving it very hard for the duo to push any harder towards the climax. Everything was somehow ‘monumental’ – there were monumental strides towards the audience, monumental looks into the distance and monumental chair movements. The amount of dramatic moments and twists of tension were rather draining, needing moments of release in order for the stakes to be notched up even higher at the next stage.
Set-design-wise I was also somewhat confused. Assembly’s Music Room stage is huge, true, however the seemingly indeterminate number of objects scattered around it didn’t really bring to mind a vast kitchen – it felt rather piecemeal. A tree trunk at the side of the stage, symbolizing the bubbling anger and resentment of John’s Xhona roots, looked completely at odds with the rest of the naturalistic piece – made of twisting silver wires instead of the heavily realistic table and chairs. There needed to be something unifying to bring it together, sharpening up the edges of the production to razor-sharp and truly highlighting the extraordinary world where such actions can take place.
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