My falsies and other indignities

“SHE does the wife thing like this,” says Marie (Sue Diepeveen), taking off one of her acquaintances, in So you want to be a trophy wife? at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until September 24. Photograph by Philip Kuhn.

MALICIOUS GOSSIP, THE quest to squeeze your body into impossible Spanx and the need to slap sticky tape on your hairline in the name of fitting in, are just a couple of the indignities that women are brainwashed to comply with, in the world in which we live. It’s also with the laughter of recognition and the realisation that nostalgic treasures are sometimes just that, that Sue Diepeveen has used to craft her character Marie, the protagonist and sounding board in So you want to be a trophy wife?, currently onstage at Theatre on the Square in Sandton.

On one level, the script feels dated and rotten with platitudes that reach back into 1950s definitions of good wives. On the other, this is exactly what makes it work. And without slipping into a stern feminist diatribe against millennial values, it casts the whole of the vanity industry of imperatives against which women are raised with an urgent desperation to fit in, in a garish and fabulously comical light. It takes bites out of that industry, as well as every other field that touches it, from the business of casual sex to that of finding a man to marry.

Marie is an incredibly unsophisticated youngish widow who has been utterly broken in, in the values department. An only child, she’s been so thoroughly schooled in the skill of being a good woman in terms of what her mother taught her, she’s all but forgotten that she’s a person in her own right. Attuned to being a plodder throughout her life, because that’s what she was told, time and again, she’s also yearned to be the owner of that same mother’s jewels, for so many years that the thought that they might not be dinkum treasures is impossible. And she comes away, after a 19 year long marriage, with more questions than answers, and more heavily thumbed You magazines and spangly frocks laden with memory, that anything real to go on with.

Half-way into the production’s run in Sandton, the work was broken by an unexpectedly long transition between the start of loadshedding and the kicking in of the centre’s generator. Diepeveen didn’t miss a beat and indeed, gave her character exactly the dollop of ad lib spice that made the rest of the work sing with empathy and unabridged hilarity, and got the whole audience fall in love with Diepeveen’s character with all her broken dreams and perceived need for falsies, in the bra-, eyelash- and profiles on dating sites-departments.

It’s a lovely, crispy bit of social commentary that slips between the chinks of popular discourse and comes with its own fresh and feisty character, against a uniquely South African background that is supremely innocent of how the world really works. But, above all, it’s a brilliantly biting foray into the underside of women’s values and a perfect girls’ night out.

  • So you want to be a trophy wife? is written and performed by Sue Diepeveen. Directed by Wynne Bredenkamp and produced by Faeron Wheeler and Daphne Kuhn, it plays until September 24 at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton.

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