Klippies by Jessica Sian – review

Klippies photo: Richard Lakos

Photo: Richard Lakos

Klippies –an extraordinary new play about friendship, identity and freedom in present-day South Africa. Review by Joanna Lally. 

There is a palpable heat to Klippies, the debut play by Jessica Siân. Set during Summer 2014 in Johannesburg, where Siân was born, it examines the adolescence of South Africa’s democracy through the eyes of Yolandi (Sam Colley) and Thandi (Adelayo Adedayo), two teenage girls who forge an unlikely friendship outside the school gates one Thursday evening. Siân has developed the play with director Chelsea Walker from a rehearsed reading at the HighTide Festival in 2013 through to its first full production at Southwark Playhouse, which is led by Walker and features a largely female creative team.

Despite the differences in their background and status, both Thandi and Yolandi come from families shadowed by violence, and they share troubled relationships with their parents. To pass the time they ‘swing’ cigarettes and swig Klippies (slang for Klipdrift brandy) with coke by the poolside at Thandi’s house, skipping across the hot tiles to avoid burning their feet. It’s not hard to imagine the stifling conditions conjured bythe glaring bright lights and Holly Pigott’s dehydrated set. This gives way to a sense of a remote, empty landscape, where new secrets and territories begin to unfold.

Siân’s script lends itself to the bodied intonation of the dialect, which is delivered brilliantly by both actors. Their words are weighted, yet the language also carries a quick, rough edge to it. Colley measures her character’s assured ferociousness with vulnerability, while Adedayo instils Thandi’s shy curiosity with a sense of defiance. As the heat rises and they wait for the rains to come, the friends sweat out tensions of race, money, and sexuality, and their language becomes increasingly potent. At one point Thandi incites her companion to use a racial slur, and, refusing, Yolandi tells her: ‘It holds everything in it, all the guilt and shame and anger and violence. It’s our parents and their parents and everything and all the ugliness they left for us.’ When the drought eventually breaks, it brings about the promise of escape, and the freedom to refashion identity from the dirt left behind by previous generations. As a whole, this is an astoundingly vibrant piece of storytelling. Sizzling.

Klippies runs until 6 June 2015 in the Little at Southwark Playhouse. Book tickets here

There will also be a post-show discussion on Women in Theatre on Tuesday 26 May, with Janet Suzman and Sphinx Theatre’s Sue Parrish, alongside members of the cast and creative team.

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About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
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