THE HUCKSTERS. Written and directed by Louis Viljoen. With Emily Child and Nicholas Pauling. Photographs: Barbara Loots. Alexander Bar.
KAREN RUTTER reviews
One thing you can be assured of when you’re at a Louis Viljoen show – it’s going to be intense. Even when things are funny, they’re focused. So you must know that when stuff gets dark, it’s WTF stygian.
And so it is with The Hucksters, Viljoen’s latest play. The post-coital two-hander wastes no time getting down to the murky business of truth and lies as its protagonists roll out of bed and warily face up to each other. A booze-fuelled bit of rumpy pumpy has progressed to a cautious confrontation at the point that we, the audience, arrive on the scene. And by the time we leave, we’ve been drawn into a full-bore meditation on memory, myth and manipulation. Except meditation sounds calming, and The Hucksters is not.
Emily Child and Nicholas Pauling, both long-time Viljoen accomplices, here play the part of two people who share a distasteful history. But as they begin to dissect their past, through dialogue that feels jagged and dangerous, it’s not so clear who exactly is the villain and who is the victim.
It should be obvious. And Viljoen sets us up for this, as Child and Pauling each initially appear to have a plausible response to an incident that happened a while back. She’s hurt and outraged, he’s apologetic and defensive, and it seems to make sense. We, as an audience, understand their positions. But as both characters begin to interrogate the roles they have played, with more honesty, their psychological unravelling reveals much more complex angles. Particularly on the part of Child. Sex and power, lust and weakness, pain and pleasure – all becomes joined as what was initially manifest is blurred. To the extent that the ending, while shockingly blunt and inappropriate, is also amusing.
Pauling and Child have been down a similar road with The Pervert Laura, as two parts of a dysfunctional, disturbing un-whole, and here again they prove utterly engaging. Viljoen’s script is taut and edgy, leading one ever deeper into the darkness. The title – which is a term used to refer to sales or advertising people – perfectly sums up the peddling of dreams by the protagonists, both for a living and to themselves.