Vanessa Cooke

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Vanessa Cooke (1948-) is an actress, playwright and director.


The daughter of Roy Cooke, she studied at the University of the Witwatersrand, completing a BA in English and History.

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

She had her first role 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, then performed for the Johannesburg Repertory Society an amateur, beginning with a role in Marcel Pagnol’s Fanny, at the Alexander Theatre in 1967.

She then became a member of Mannie Manim and Barney Simon's The Company at the Arena Theatre round about 1974 and in 1976 became one of the founder members , appearing in the Marat/Sade for The Company, which was the official opening production of the Market Theatre. She later also appeared in The Seagull, which opened the Upstairs Theatre. A stalwart member of the the management team at the Market Theatre, she took over as director of the Market Theatre Laboratory in 1996.

As performer

Her numerous acting roles over the years have included appearances in productions such as Show Me Yours..., Woyzeck (1973), Antigone (by Jean Anouilh) (1975), The Seagull (1976), Mother Courage (1977), People are Living There (1977), Travesties (1978), Romeo and Juliet (1982), Gertrude Stein and a Companion (1985), Samuel Beckett’s Catastrophe (1985) Laughing Wild (1990), The Belle of Amherst (1990), Six Degrees of Separation (1991), Indiscretions (1996), Endgame (1997), How I Learned to Drive (1998), Dream of the Dog(2007), 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, "Grace" in Vigil (2013-2014). Samuel Beckett’s Catastrophe (the Wits Theatre in 1985), William M. Hoffman’s As Is (directed by Janice Honeyman in 1986), Jerome Kilty’s Dear Love (André Huguenet Theatre in 1988), Forbidden Fruits. Private Lives, Romeo and Juliet, True Confusions, Hotel Polana, Vigil (2013-2014), Hey Listen!, Woyzeck, Mama is Terry home for good?, Cop-Out, Twelfth Night, People are Living There and People Too, An Arabian Night.

As film actress, she had a role in the 1970 film Forgotten Summer.

As playwright and improvisor

As creative artist/ playwright she worked closely with Barney Simon and other members of The Company over the years, helping to create classical pieces (such as Simon and company's Cincinatti – Scenes from City Life and Born in the RSA) and as playwright and performer/improvisational actor she also co-authored a numbered of her own works, including the critically acclaimed 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), as well as And Green And Golden (1982-3), Struts and Frets and Ladies and Gentlemen, Shakespeare!

As a director

She was responsible for productions such as Meze, Mira and Make-Up (written by and starring Irene Stephanou), Telegrams From Hell, The Maids (for the Volkswagen Music Active Project in 1993) and Julius Caesar for the Market Theatre Laboratory, The House of Truth (2016?), How I Learned to Drive.

Awards, etc

She was awarded the best English actress as Alice B. Toklas in 1986 in Gertrude Stein and a companion.

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.

Beeld Plus, 26 July 2007.

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