And the Girls in their Sunday Dress by Zakes Mda – review

"I commend it for not only showing us the very real nuances that surround the bonds of sisterhood; how we judge and how we assume but ultimately deeply care for each other’s wellbeing, but for showing that we all have our own ways of fighting back and breaking the chains that shackle us."
Arcola Theatre
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Review by: Maheni Arthur | @mahenikarthur
Published: Tuesday 4th October 2021, 11:08am

(c) Ruphin Coudyzer And The Girls In Their Sunday Dresses - Jul 2010
(c) Ruphin Coudyzer And The Girls In Their Sunday Dresses - Jul 2010

It’s always refreshing to bear witness to a play that demonstrates complex conversation in the simplest of ways, and Zakes Mda’s And The Girls in Their Sunday Dresses is one such work. Originally written in 1988 and set in South Africa amongst the weight of apartheid and a precarious political future, two characters dubbed The Lady and The Woman wait in line to buy government aid rice, spending their long days together righting the worlds wrongs and leaning on each other in more ways than one. Directed by Mojisola Elufowoju, this two-hander performed at Arcola Theatre is a humorous commentary on social income and gender inequality, and an observation of relationships that can be formed in unseeming places.

Bu Kunene and Sabrina Richmond’s naturalistic performance styles bring The Lady and The Woman to life and give their respective parts the justice they deserve. Kunene plays the streetwise and feisty sex worker, her charming wit has wonderful comedic timing against Richmond’s cutting critical remarks as The Woman, a disgruntled and matter-of-fact flat cleaner. Not quite friends but far from strangers, their irritated mother and stubborn daughter like relationship is tested as they become more and more frustrated to being ignored by the very same people who hold their fate in their hands.

This unexpected meet cute ends up delivering a powerful commentary on how women are treated by men, monologuing their romantic past times, as well as sharing their disgust for the wealthier classes and local men they now lay in wait for. I loved how it cleverly touched on several issues without them seeming like a token; a passing comment about skin lightening creams was upsetting but understandably normalised within the society they live in.

Sometimes it’s easier to smile and wave to your oppressor than it is to stick your middle finger to them

The changing lights from cool to warm and makeshift nature of Arcola Theatre’s outdoor space beg us to live in line with these women, feeling the crisp cold of their early mornings and the blistering heat of their afternoons. The set is simple and understated with bits of corrugated metal scraps and posters pasted on the walls, a fitting way to have us understand the barrenness and stark nature of their situation like so many others at the time, stuck in one place and waiting for something, anything to happen.

Whilst I thought some of the role-playing sequences slowed down the performance, in all I found the portrayals of these women and their storytelling enjoyable to watch. I was rooting for them to get what they have been waiting so long for and it was heart-warming to see the evolution of both characters’ mindset as they learn to recognise but not vilify their differences. I commend it for not only showing us the very real nuances that surround the bonds of sisterhood; how we judge and how we assume but ultimately deeply care for each other’s wellbeing, but for showing that we all have our own ways of fighting back and breaking the chains that shackle us.

Our main takeaway seems to be a question of what are we really waiting for? The Lady and The Woman are completely different yet two sides of the same coin, and whilst both battle with their own ideologies, their collective exasperation rings clear. Whilst we can all hope for a revolution, sometimes it’s easier to smile and wave to your oppressor than it is to stick your middle finger to them, especially if those are the same people who stand in the way of your survival.

NEED TO KNOW: And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses by Zakes Mda was presented by Utopia Theatre at the Arcola from 29 Sept – 2 Oct | See listing
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