“You think because you black you know what it’s like to live in a township?”
In a baking hot schoolyard in a suburb on the edge of Johannesburg, an unlikely alliance gradually builds up between two teenage girls but in a post-apartheid South Africa in its eighteenth year of democracy, the winds of change are blowing strongly across the veld. Thandi comes from a well-to-do Zulu family and has aspirations to be a lawyer, Afrikaner Yolandi is from the rougher side of town and finds herself having to act as a lookout for her brother whilst he strips their teacher’s car for parts. But despite of, or maybe because of, their differences, a bond starts to grow.
Jessica Siân’s Klippies details the progression of this friendship with a startling clarity that speaks so much of the forthrightness of youth but also of a nation that is changing so quickly in some ways, yet unable to let go of the past in others. Illicit bottles of brandy, homemade tattoos and heady passions characterise their tumble into a wondrous seclusion from the real world but try as they might, the scars of racial politics are hard to escape and the differences in their family situations, though equally troubled, threatens to pull them apart.
There’s an admirable rawness to Chelsea Walker’s production that feels entirely appropriate for a story so concerned with youth. The pulsing beats of rap/rave combo Die Antwoord punctuate scenes as Samantha Colley’s Yolandi and Adelayo Adedayo’s Thandi add or remove layers of clothing in front of us, the cigarettes they love to share are stubbed out in the sand collected around the edges of Holly Pigott’s set, and there’s a thoroughly believable awkwardness to the way in which both girls move, especially around each other, thanks to Diane Alison-Mitchell’s movement direction.
But there’s also real elegance too, especially in the monologues that pepper the script, as the girls each speak what they would say to the parents they have lost, and in the visual impact of Jamie Platt’s brightly hued lighting, creating amazing silhouettes against endless vistas. There’s something hugely fascinating about hearing South African voices talking authentically about the issues we only ever read about in the UK – the dire need for safe sex, what racial epithets now mean in a society yearning to be post-racial, even Oscar Pistorius’ court case.
Colley and Adelayo both deliver intensely committed performances – Colley gives us all of the barely contained anger of a young woman raging against the world and her consequent unpredictability and if Adedayo’s work is subtler – but no less affecting – by comparison, it is because Thandi’s dilemmas stem from a more deeply buried place. A fascinating and essential addition to the other recent African stories of Eclipsed and Sense of an Ending as part of some inspired programming by London’s fringe theatres.