Savage, spellbinding and magnificent, Louis Viljoen's latest offering to erupt into the world of contemporary South African theatre reflects this dramatist's maturing mastery of his chosen genre.
Like his earlier works, THE VISIGOTHS has all the shock value of obscene language and unspeakably gross content. In addition to these familiar elements, however, there are more significant features of universal weight, such as existential debate, and a penetrating exploration of humanity's brutality, insecurities, and delusions. Add to this a shattering climax concluding the hour-long odyssey shared by audience and protagonists, and we have theatre of Sartre-esque potency.
Shrewdly entrusted to the talents of two outstanding actors (one seasoned, the other of nascent but impressive ability), this succulent two-hander retains an iron grip on its audience from start to finish.
Nicholas Pauling and Daniel Newton between them bring the venomous dialogue to vivid life as they finish each other's sentences, pouncing upon every opportunity to dominate or disconcert one another with no cue missed and intensity sustained.
The theme is child abuse, delineated in horrendously graphic detail as language is put in the service of realism with appalling fluency.
The names of the two men confronting each other are richly evocative: Roth (Pauling), if pronounced in the European way, becomes "rot", which explains with hindsight the play's chilling prefatory monologue about decay and cancerous invasion, reprised in modified form in the epilogue - a structurally elegant device.
As for the other participant in the verbal skirmish, Theo (Newton), his name at once evokes the Greek concept of god ... and the plethora of beliefs attendant upon it.
Battle lines are drawn, the two argue over issues of retribution/redemption, normalcy/deviance, and above all, obligations, the validity of which is questionable. All interlarded with excursions into memory and fantasy, most of them barbaric in accordance with the play's title.
Both actors excel at alternating between a contrived rigidity suggesting repressed emotion, and sudden outbursts of unbridled fury. Their formal, post-funeral attire likewise contrasts piquantly with their inner rage.
As the gory survivor of their conflict addresses the audience, one realises that yet again, and more tellingly than ever, Viljoen has probed the festering depths of the human psyche with the cool detachment of a surgeon wielding a scalpel, to inspire some uncomfortable reflection on what it is to belong to the violent species of Man.
Provided one has a sensibility sufficiently robust for this exercise, THE VISIGOTHS provides salutary medicine - and brilliant theatre.
THE VISIGOTHS, written and directed by Louis Viljoen, starring Nicholas Pauling and Daniel Newton, runs until 24 June 2023 at the Masambe Theatre at the Baxter Theatre Centre. Bookings through Webtickets.
TRIGGER WARNING: This play contains graphic descriptions of violence and sexual assault through the use of strong language. No under 18s.