‘The Girl in the Yellow Dress’ shows angst is not unique to South Africa

‘The Girl in the Yellow Dress’ shows angst is not unique to South Africa

Black and white, truth and lies, trust, deception and self-deceit are the issues and emotions at the heart of this new South African play. But, oddly, it’s not about South Africa at all. By LESLEY STONES.

The familiar sounds of our own angst-ridden territory are worldwide issues that we really can’t claim sole ownership over.  That’s often forgotten because South Africans still like to play the martyrs who have suffered more than most.

Instead, author Craig Higginson has set “The Girl in the Yellow Dress” in Paris where it deals with a developing relationship between Celia, a young English teacher, and Pierre, her French-Congolese student.

The title sounds lightweight and inconsequential, but this is a glorious and intense piece of theatre for the cognoscenti. For people looking for brilliant acting, a challenging, thought-provoking script, witty dialogue and tight direction where every moment is flawless. It’s an evening that rewards the intellect rather than a show that washes over you with mindless entertainment.

The pairing of English actress Marianne Oldham as Celia and young South African Nat Ramabulana as Pierre works beautifully. She’s fraught, crisp, insular and edgy in that spiky brittle English rose manner. He carries off his Afro-French accent effortlessly and manages to be both likeable but suspicious, vulnerable but callous.

Ramabulana gives us a mixed bag of emotions, bringing them all out in turn as the plot unfolds and their encounters intensify. Throughout the increasingly risky relationship the English language plays a major role, with Celia throwing out complex grammatical regulations that serve to highlight how complicated everything can be once you start to scratch below the surface.

Oldham and Ramabulana tussle verbally then physically as an undercurrent of lust ousts any lack of genuine liking, both taking what they need from their encounter with the class and colour of a different world. The humour, accusations and desire play out on a chic stage set that captures the single girl on the go atmosphere perfectly.

Director Malcolm Purkey has produced a smart, taut play that bristles along beautifully, part thriller, part social commentary and part comedy. It’s an enormously welcome addition to the local drama scene where so many plays are dated or too small-minded to go beyond our own tedious navel-gazing. DM

Photos by Ruphin Coudyzer.

“The Girl in the Yellow Dress” runs at the Market Theatre until 21 November.

Read more of Lesley’s writing at her great website.


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.