Rosemary Kay

Not Either an Experimental Doll

A profoundly moving story of hope, misplaced generosity and betrayal, set in 1950’s South Africa.

The true story of a ground-breaking but ultimately doomed relationship between an aging white philanthropist academic, and a black African destitute orphan, this is a South Africa Pygmalion. Lily, trapped in poverty, about to be sold into a marriage, is desperate, gutsy, talented, but also naïve, difficult, selfish and scarily needy. The academic is generous and altruistic, with grandiose goals for the education of African children, but also patronising, self-righteous, cold and not as aware of African culture as she likes to think she is.

Played partly in present day and partly in the fifties, it’s a story which highlights the roots of the current situation in South Africa, whilst also questioning how much has changed over the decades. And it’s a metaphor for African politics today: western philanthropists throw compassion and money at a problem, whilst not really understanding the essence of the problem or the recipients of their generosity.

Transmitted by Radio 4 1999

Produced by Polly Thomas

“Not Either an Experimental Doll was remarkable: the haunting correspondence between a teenage orphan black girl and a septuagenarian white educationalist in 1950s South Africa. The girl begs for help in getting an education, reveling in language, picking up, polishing, marvelling at words and phrases as if they were precious stones. The older woman encourages her, rebuffs her, draws back from personal warmth and denies the girl the affection she needs even more than the education. Rosemary Kay’s adaptation was delicate, probing and desperately moving, and lingers guiltily, sorrowfully, in the memory.” Financial Times.

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