A striking debut from South African writer Jessica Siân
Jessica Siân’s new play is a beautifully wrought coming of age drama with a difference. Following two teenagers from contrasting areas of Johannesburg, ‘Klippies’ is heavy with guilt: the guilt of new passions and unfamiliar feelings, but also the guilt of a country’s past.
This is an assured debut from South African Siân, who develops the relationship between Thandi and Yolandi with impressive vividness. The white, poor Yolandi is the rebel, while Thandi, black and rich, is the well-behaved student. They meet after school one day when Thandi surprises Yolandi by standing up to her goading.
It’s an unlikely friendship – the troubled bully and the school swot – but Siân makes it work and over the course of the play the two characters forge a deep relationship with a tension right at its core. It’s this tension that spurs the play on. As they laze around after school, and on the weekends by Thandi’s pool drinking Klipdrift brandy (or ‘Klippies’, as they call it) and listening to music, the girls argue: about their backgrounds, about how Thandi has everything apart from her mother who died and Yolandi has nothing but a drug- and drink-addled brother and mother. But it’s when they briefly, subtly broach the subject of apartheid that you realise the other baggage they are carrying.
‘Klippies’ is a portrait of a modern South Africa that rings true. The two girls, living 18 years after the country established a democracy, weren’t even alive during apartheid, but they are the product of what happened. And it is this that makes the play so interesting.
Adelayo Adedayo as Thandi and Samantha Colley as Yolandi are both excellent. Their accents slip occasionally, which means the Afrikaans slang is often hard to follow, but they are bright and convincing and create a friendship that is persuasive in its changeability. Chelsea Walker’s strong, simple direction leaves a raised platform on an open stage which stands for all the varying places the girls meet.
‘Klippies’ is a well-crafted snapshot – a delicate look at burgeoning youth and the burden of history.