BWW Review: Go on an emotional rollercoaster with THE HUCKSTERS at the Baxter
For just a moment, at the beginning of the play, you think you are watching two strangers who are a little jaded with life and had hoped that a casual hook up might make things better for a while. After this brief thought has flitted across your mind, it becomes clear that THE HUCKSTERS is much, much darker.
Louis Viljoen's script is intense and in your face - and I like it. The characters are real, complex and decidedly messed up, and in some ways, pretty relatable. We all have dark thoughts and the desire to tell people exactly what is on our minds. This play just pushes things to the extreme. The audience is confronted by two characters in a state of undress and a dishevelled bed standing between them. It's the moment shortly after a one-night stand between Beth and Fred has been consummated - possibly one of the strangest times for human interaction because you've shared something so intimate and now you make small talk.
The small talk in THE HUCKSTERS turns dark quickly as it comes out that the two have a connection, a shared moment in their past that was painful and challenging. The dialogue comes out fast and furious, painting a vivid picture of this past moment, how it changed them both and how they actually ended up at that particular moment all those years earlier. There are times when it feels like a full-on assault as the characters, particularly Beth, pour out unpleasant descriptions of themselves, of each other and of the people around them. The genius of Viljoen's script is how he brings in moments of comedy that crack the tension just enough to allow audience and performers a space to breathe before diving back in.
To me, the only weak link was in the robotic nature of the performances. I'm not sure if this was a conscious choice as the piece has also been directed by writer Louis Viljoen and he has worked with actors Emily Child and Nicholas Pauling before. I get that they were perhaps going for a sense of detachment, that the characters are no longer able to feel real emotions or didn't know what real emotions are anymore. However, there were points that felt flat and one dimensional, which was at serious odds with the complex ideas being dealt with in the script. I felt this particularly with Child's character, Beth, who was just too matter of fact about some very hectic events and thoughts.
Overall, THE HUCKSTERS is an intense rollercoaster ride that is definitely not for the fainthearted. The language used is equally intense and abrasive (warning for those who are not keen on strong language). Viljoen covers a lot of ground in only 60 minutes, sucking you in with some excellent writing.
Photo credit: Alma Nel and Barbara Loots
THE HUCKSTERS is on at the Golden Arrow Studio - Baxter Theatre Centre until 1 February from Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm. Tickets ranging from R90 to R150 can be booked via Webtickets.