Written/Directed: Louis Viljoen
Cast: Pierre Malherbe, Brendon Daniels and Rebecca Makin-Taylor
Venue: Alexander Upstairs Theatre
Until: September 13
Corrosive, foul-mouthed and brilliant, this new play by Louis Viljoen bears all the hallmarks of the dramatist’s style – and like his earlier works, it makes engrossing theatre.
Described as “dark comedy”, The Kingmakers is not dark so much as Stygian: it navigates the inky waters of contemporary South African politics with a clinical coldness which is more disturbing than the sentimental effusion of outrage (a more obvious and tempting response to the machinations of the politically ambitious).
A typical throwaway line regarding 44 dead miners: “They’re more useful dead than anything they did on this earth or even in it.” That is one of the milder boutades of the play.
Not for nothing does it start with a violent storm, morosely contemplated by opposition-party strategist Arno (Pierre Malherbe) in the aftermath of betrayal within his party.
Peace and quietude have no place in his dog-eat-dog world and his natural resilience soon asserts itself to plot revenge, which conveniently doubles as a stepping stone to greater power and influence – the desiderata of any politician.
He is abetted by his associate Dan (Brendon Daniels) in the quest for a neutral, malleable individual who can be shaped into a leader; together they co-opt the lovely Amy (Rebecca Makin-Taylor) to join their conspiracy… and then the fun begins.
The trio’s personalities are nicely differentiated despite their common goal of self-aggrandisement, and Malherbe, Daniels and Makin-Taylor exploit to the full the complexities of their respective personae.
Malherbe’s Arno is dynamic, articulate and ruthless, seeing opportunity even in apparent setbacks; Daniels’s character is softer but not much – such scruples as he musters are not silenced as relentlessly as those (if any) of his associate.
As for Amy, Makin-Taylor conveys all the edginess resulting from the conflict between this woman’s instinct for self-preservation versus risk-necessitating greed.
None of these plotters is shy about using powerful expletives; the dialogue reads like a compendium of obscenities, but the coarseness of the language matches the coarseness of the morality it expresses.
At one point Dan remarks to Arno, “Your metaphors are disconcerting.” Which is putting it mildly.
South African politics as presented in The Kingmakers is summed up by one of Arno’s more pithy phrases: “…ruled by bureaucrats and barbarians”.
Unfortunately, that is not likely to change if these kingmakers have their way.
This is memorably good theatre.