Theatre Review: Flight Of Fantasy Diverted, Or Love’s Labour Disregarded

March 14, 2015



She Died Dreaming / Directed by Jullian Seleke-Mokoto / Market Theatre, Johannesburg


Jullian Seleke-Mokoto’s latest play is now two years old. This aside is worth mentioning because its Market Theatre incarnation still feels very much like a workshop piece, a cobbling together of a number of different ideas, something usually only noticeable in the development stage of a new work.

The story concerns a woman named Hilda (Nomsa Buthelezi) and a trio of friends and colleagues (Linda Sebezo, Dikeledi Modubi and Thembi Ntombela) who appear to spend every minute of their free time at Hilda’s house, where she lives alone. The four of them speak endlessly about love, life and men, interspersed with occasional musical interlude (a bit of Brenda Fassie; a surprising amount of Dolly Parton). Each character has their own issues with significant others or the absence thereof, and revealing these layers is the core business of the script.

It’s a simple, frequently used formula – think of most of Tyler Perry’s work – and the florid, exaggerated characterisation by the cast results in a number of laughs, particularly when accompanied by long bursts of vernacular (only about half of the show is in English) and much nodding ahead among audience members who see parts of themselves or their experiences in what is unfolding  onstage.

But there are too many worries – conflicting themes, wonky pacing, unconvincing dialogue and implausible situations – to allow the occasional giggle be your abiding memory of the play. The women, drunk on sparkling wine, graphically describe their boyfriends and their sexual exploits before tearfully exclaiming that God is their rock and their only hope. Songs are played, sung or danced to for three or four times longer than is needed to make the point or establish the tune as a relationship reference point or the lyrics as an insight into the characters.

Hilda’s descriptions of the dream man she’s managed to snag are unbelievable, yet her three closest friends take her chatter at face value and both fail to acknowledge her loneliness or share openly and helpfully about their own romantic shortfalls. And that the four of them are air stewardesses is a pointless conceit: the play opens with a line about fastening seatbelts for a bumpy ride, but the characters could just as easily – and more credibly – have all met while working in a shop or at a bank.

There’s also the issue of the play’s title telegraphing its ending, but that’s presumably by design, to add pathos to all the bits in the middle. As it turns out, though, the only benefit of knowing how everything resolves is being able to judge when the piece is nearing its conclusion.

An odd show, lifted by moments of cheerful spleen venting, but hamstrung throughout by its various inconsistencies.