There is work each individual will love without prompting. Not necessarily because it’s hailed as brilliant by those in the know, not because the actors were any kind of special, not because of the music or the lighting or the set – you love it because of how all of these things come together and work beautifully for you specifically.
Mies Julie does in fact have good actors, and music and lighting and set technicians who understand the work and have chosen very well how to best complement the script.
The actors are completely present in the space, completely comfortable in their characters as if they fully understand the character of being.
The music is used to evoke a very specific atmosphere, sinister and spiritual, and follows the script’s every beat and energy shift. There is barely a minute of silence that isn’t interrupted by the sound of a saxophone with low legato notes being played, or the sounds created from traditional African instruments.
But for me it was perhaps the lighting that really took me to this other world of the play. The story is set in the Karoo where, to paraphrase a line of the text, some people have lived their whole lives and never seen rain. The farm is hot and dry constantly in the moment just before a storm breaks. The lighting has somehow managed to capture that feeling of heat and the slight hysterical desperation in waiting for the drought to break.
The theatrical space is filled with light that softens edges and romanticises the setting (like people are wont to do with the beauty only found in the Karoo). It looks like light shining straight through smoke from a smoke-machine, I felt like I could touch it and it would be thick real thing in my hands. There is red light shining straight down on to the set that emphasise the red stones on the floor of the kitchen the action takes place in adding an element of danger to the space.
The fact that there are two men wearing black on stage, one with a saxophone and the other with a computer to control the lights, that are not part of the script at all surprisingly did not disrupt the trance-like haze I fell into watching the show.
And as I watched the relationship between John and Julie, their chemistry palpable as emotions swing from one extreme to the next until love and hate are synonymous, I found myself enraptured and completely lost. The script, the almost heightened writing style as well as delivery, drew me to listening to the words – getting out of my own head.
The story is brilliant. Yael Farber objectively explores the thoughts and justifications of both black and white – loosely drawing from the Land Reclaims Act post-Apartheid – without hailing any side as being the more deserving. Farber does not focus on who is right or who is wrong, and instead focuses on the deep-rooted love both parties have for this land that generations of both their families have bled and died for and been buried under.
I loved the play. However, I am wary of misleading people into thinking Mies Julie is the messiah of theatre. Of course there will be people who don’t like it, but it won’t be because it’s not good. In the same way that I loved the piece because it is exactly my kind of theatre (a heady mix of expressionism, surrealism, symbolism and of course post-modernism packaged as a perfect drug for a heavy trip), others might not because it isn’t theirs. –Qondiswa James