She said what?!


TRUST me: Two sides to the same girlfriend. Hannah Nokwazi Van Tonder and Mathabo Tlali. Photograph courtesy Binnie Christie.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN you leave your new girlfriend in your house alone for the first time? Does she go and do the domestic chores thing: iron your sheets, cook and clean so that you will return overwhelmed with her pre-1950s womanly values and discipline? Does she roll around languidly on your sheets, thinking about last night? Or maybe she goes and does her own work, to put her mind off how much she misses you? But perhaps she turns manic and rifles through your stuff, with a voracious urgency to find out all your secrets and explore all your most intimate flaws. She said, She said teases the possibilities open. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Young playwright Binnie Christie tosses up these curious possibilities with her cast, comprising Hannah Nokwazi Van Tonder and Mathabo Tlali, in a work that is redolent not only of the staging of Zakes Mda’s The Mother of All Eating in 2014, but also of a university production of Sartre’s The Flies, staged by Wits students the year after. It has to do with the successful splitting of a single character into two completely opposed roles. What you get is an inner dialogue effectively turned inside out, and the secret words that the proverbial devil on your one shoulder and angel on the other whisper to your inner psyche are brought devastatingly well to the fore. It also takes the idea of a mono-drama and splays it open, lending it even greater possibilities.

This kind of level of collaborative mettle was engaged in a work staged earlier this year as part of the Sex Actually festival. Between Sisters, directed by Refiloe Lepere, tore strips off previous versions of Jean Genet’s The Maids. While Tlali and Van Tonder occasionally get a little carried away with themselves, generally in She Said, She Said, they do not disappoint in their feisty give and take.

The casualty in this work however, is the narrative itself. It needs tightening. The energy of the performers, the wit of their dialogue and the circumstances in which they find themselves – or rather in which ‘she’ finds herself – are magnetic, but the work itself begs for further tweaking and more bravery in the area of pushing back but also reflecting stereotypes even further and presenting the cold heart of the new woman in Sello’s life. The character slips in and out of accents and languages which is beguiling and headily self-disparaging but the flow of contemporary jargon with narrative values is not always smooth.

Having said that, there are few things in this beleaguered creative industry right now that are quite as exciting as young energy that has the chutzpah and self-belief to cock a snook at the restraints of limited funding and difficult pragmatics. Part of the fifth edition of the Women’s Theatre festival at Olive Tree theatre, She said, She said, deserves legs and heads that turn and take notice.

  • She said, she said is written and directed by Binnie Christie and performed by Hannah Nokwazi Van Tonder and Mathabo Tlali. It was showcased at the Olive Tree theatre in Wynberg, between November 11 and 13.

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