Drama Still relevant, after all these years

Still relevant, after all these years

When director Karabelo Lekalake decided to stage a 26-year-old revival of Sue Pam-Grant’s Curl Up & Dye, she preferred not to update the setting to the present day, but rather keep intact the paranoia of a crumbling inner-city Johannesburg circa 1989. Initially this makes the play feel dated, especially as the dialogue harks back to those early and very tentative days of racial integration, where black people were either domestic workers or “terrorists”, and white people lived in a vague fear of the unknown but inevitable change that was coming. Nowadays, that scenario seems backward and outdated.

Scene from director Karabelo Lekalake’s revival of Sue Pam-Grant’s Curl Up & Dye. Photo: CuePix

Scene from director Karabelo Lekalake’s revival of Sue Pam-Grant’s Curl Up & Dye. Photo: CuePix

But as the narrative unfolds in Lekalake’s revival, and as the characters reveal themselves, the play begins to deal with more universal themes of racism, substance abuse, domestic violence and confused identity that makes for extremely relevant, if rather uncomfortable, viewing. It is shocking to realise that this prejudice, desperation and abuse still exists.

The play is set in a down-at-heel hairdressing salon in Joubert Park, one of those “grey areas” in Johannesburg where black people managed to escape the Group Areas Act and live amongst mostly poor whites. This is an area where life was often a matter of survival, and characters coped by living in a world of fantasy and forlorn hopes.

At first, the interplay between the characters – owner of the salon Rolene, regular customer Mrs Du Bois, the put-upon maid Miriam, and the local prostitute Charmaine – feels like a rather edgy situation comedy. There are some extremely funny lines and snappy come-backs, but underlying it all is a sense of sadness: these are women who are abused by circumstance and by life, but try to put a jaunty face on their unhappiness.

But then a new element appears amongst the regular (white) clientele at the salon: an educated and sophisticated black woman who starts, right from the very first minute, to upset all the careful fences these four women have built up around themselves. In the last few minutes of the play the emotional tempo climbs to a final, shocking climax that leaves the audience breathless. Satisfyingly acted and seamlessly directed, Curl Up & Dye is a relevant, timely and disturbing play which shows that despite 26 years of nominal equality between races, classes and genders, we still have a long way to go.

7 July, 8pm 

Nikki Moore

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