Marriage is a commitment and a challenge and neither Dan nor Catherine were sure what they were looking for when they first met for dinner five years ago, his first experience of online dating, her first date ever as she explained over the course of the evening, shedding the anonymity which protected her since adolescence and revealing herself, hoping he might understand and accept her, the Zebra Girl with her wickedly beautiful stripes.
A complicated woman in a complicated relationship to whom the past is another country, Catherine has reinvented herself, softened her edges with pink jumpers, pink lip gloss, pink nail varnish, even pink silk pyjamas, but her quirks remain, her difficulty in trusting people and insistence in scrupulous honesty coupled with an approach so forthright it can be unsettling.
Holdovers from an eventful childhood in an unhappy home and a brutal institution, the one bright spot was Anita who Catherine now calls out of the blue, asking for urgent and specific help having summarily decided to end her marriage and needing the support of her best friend. A stranger in town, Anita can gather the items on Catherine’s shopping list without arousing suspicion, cleaning products, bin liners, and a bow saw – predictably preferably pink.
Expanded from Derek Ahonen’s play Catherine and Anita by director Stephanie Zari and Sarah Roy who reprises her role as Catherine, the Zebra Girl sees herself as powerful and inspirational, liberated from the shackles which bound her to the expectations of society and the laws of man and nature: “If I was going to kill anyone I would have killed mother” was her defence when tiresomely questioned by the police about actions they couldn’t comprehend.
Tom Cullen’s Dan blindsided by Catherine’s change of heart, Jade Anouka is Anita, dancing to alleviate the initial shock of the request but struggling with Catherine’s demands and cold indifference even as she tries to comply, while Isabelle Connolly and Romani Wright are the teen Catherine and Anita, presenting a united front of sullen defiance of the norm which Catherine is now reliant on remaining undiminished.
An experience as uncomfortable as Dan and Catherine’s tortuous first date, Zebra Girl is certainly more enjoyable for the audience than the participants, capturing the obsessiveness of Heavenly Creatures and the uncertainty of The Library Suicides, Catherine far from a reliable narrator in life or in her unfinished novella, externalising the black shapes of trauma and madness which crawl through her mind as she presents the smile of a perfect wife to the world.