Vanessa Cooke

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Vanessa Cooke (1948-****). Actress, playwright and director.


Vanessa is the daughter of Roy Cooke.



She did a BA in English and History at Wits, no theatre training.


She formed part of Mannie Manim and Barney Simon’s The Company together with Aletta Bezuidenhout, Leonie Hofmeyr, David Eppel, Judith Cornell, Janice Honeyman, Sue Kiel, Danny Keogh, Lindsay Reardon and John Oakley-Smith around 1974.

Vanessa was one of the founder members of the Market Theatre in 1976 and she became director of the Market Theatre Laboratory in 1996.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

She began in theatre at the age of 4 when she performed on stage at His Majesty's Theatre in Johannesburg in Madame Butterfly by the Italian Opera Company.

She made her debut as actress in Marcel Pagnol’s Fanny, which was staged by the Reps at the Alexander Theatre in 1967.

She worked at the Arena Theatre in Hey Listen!, Woyzeck, with The Company in Mama is Terry home for good?, Cop-Out and Twelfth Night. She also performed in People Too, Marat/Sade and People are Living There.

Actress for the Space Theatre in Fugard’s Dimetos.

One of the founding members of The Company, she performed in the Marat/Sade, which was the official opening of the Market Theatre in 1976, as well as The Seagull which opened the Upstairs Theatre.

This is for Keeps (with Danny Keogh and Janice Honeyman -1983), The Native Who Caused All the Trouble (with Fink Haysom and Danny Keogh -1983), And Green And Golden (1982-3), Born in the RSA (with Barney Simon and the rest of the cast – 1985),***

Besides performing in all the foregoing, major acting roles include multiple characters, including Sheherazade*?, in An Arabian Night (197*), ****, Alice in *****Alice B. Toklas (198*), **** , ***.

She starred in The Company’s presentation of Barney Simon’s revival of People are Living There with Wilson Dunster, Yvonne Bryceland and Danny Keogh at The Market Theatre in 1977.

She starred in Barney Simon’s production of Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life together with Marcel van Heerden, Danny Keogh, Lesley Nott, Barrie Shah, Thoko Ntshinga, Bo Petersen, Sam Williams and Robin Smith for The Company at The Market Theatre, Upstairs at the Market, the Baxter Theatre and the Brooke Theatre in 1979.

Together with Danny Keogh she starred in and wrote This is for Keeps which Janice Honeyman directed at the Laager in May 1983 before playing at Upstairs at the Market in August.

She starred in Janice Honeyman’s production, Forbidden Fruits, together with Jeremy Crutchley, Mike Huff, Danny Keogh, Amanda Strydom and Annelisa Weiland at Upstairs at the Market in 1983/84.

Together with the cast comprising Fiona Ramsay, Timmy Kwebulana, Gcina Mhlope, Terry Norton, Thoko Ntshinga and Neil McCarthy, and in collaboration with its director Barney Simon, she helped write Born in the RSA which opened at Upstairs at the Market in August 1985 before moving to the main theatre.

She starred in Bobby Heaney’s productions of Saumuel Beckett’s Catastrophe at the Wits Theatre in 1985 and in William M. Hoffman’s As Is which was directed by Janice Honeyman in 1986. She starred in Jerome Kilty’s Dear Love at the André Huguenet Theatre in 1988.

Vanessa directed Meze, Mira and Make-Up written by and starring Irene Stephanou. She also directed Telegrams From Hell and The Maids in 1993 for the Volkswagen Music Active Project and Julius Caesar for the Market Theatre Laboratory.

She wrote Struts and Frets, co-devised and directed Ladies and Gentlemen, Shakespeare!,

Other productions include Show Me Yours..., Woyzeck (1973), The Seagull (1976), Mother Courage (1977), Antigone (by Jean Anouilh) (1975), Travesties (1978), Romeo and Juliet (1982), Gertrude Stein and a Companion (1985), Laughing Wild (1990), The Belle of Amherst (1990), Six Degrees of Separation (1991), Indiscretions (1996), Endgame (1997), How I Learned to Drive (1998), The Beauty Queen of Leenane (2008), Benefactors, Big Bad Mouse, Blithe Spirit, The Death of Bessie Smith, Exit the King, Lysistrata, Madame de Sade, Private Lives, Romeo and Juliet, True Confusions, Hotel Polana, .

2013-14 Played "Grace" in Vigil (Morris Panych), directed the Sello Maake ka Ncube production of The House of Truth (2016?), staged at the National Arts Festival.

She had a role in the 1970 film Forgotten Summer.

Awards, etc

She is the winner of two Vita Awards for Best Actress, a DALRO award for best supporting actress and an Amstel award for best script as co-writer of The Native Who Caused All the Trouble.

Nominated in 1991 for her role in Laughing Wild (Johannesburg Repetory Players Award for best actress in a leading role in English);

Won the Vita Award best supporting actress (Gauteng region) for How I Learned to Drive, August 1999.


Weekly Mail, 26 September 1996.

SACD 1974; 1975/76; 1977/78.

Programme notes of Meze, Mira and Make-Up at the Market Theatre in 1996.

Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

Astbury 1979.

Schwartz 1988.

Tucker, 1997.

The Star, 12 June 2006.

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