WHAT DO YOU do at the end of the year, when you’ve just broken up with your boyfriend and it’s time for a whole new take on life, the universe and everything? Why, you bond with your best friend, and embark on an all girls’ foray into the great unknown. Yes, a road trip. In the Karoo. The thing that our heroes, a couple of very ordinary young women, Jana (Roelien Daneel) and Steph (Cintaine Schutte), don’t take into consideration in this Afrikaans-language radio play, is that the Karoo landscape is a repository for some of the country’s scariest ghouls, urban legends and unexplainable horrors.
But it is not the girls that you, on the other side of your radio, meet first. It is Mandas (Charlton George), one of the said things that go bump in the night. He’s a tall thin man with gimlet eyes who wears in a suit who seems to have gone rogue by the look and sound of his words, needs and behaviour. A son of the devil? Maybe. Either way, it is the hushed tones of this character that open the play in the kind of fierce and poetic whispers that grab your attention and make the hair at the back of your neck stand on edge.
And then the scene shifts, and we meet the girls on their road trip en route to the tiny village of Sutherland, in the heart of the Karoo. As they prattle on, like a kind of contemporary South African Thelma and Louise, about marriage and boys, about the year that they’ve had and how excited they are for their trip, the night closes in on them, with all its spooky possibilities and a sound track that begs comparison with that in the 1990s British tv series Trial and Retribution, leaving you, the listener, in the know that something is out there.
You kind of suspect how the story will unfold, and you’re not completely wrong, as you see it fitting comfortably into a narrative rubric of horror that has been cast millions of times around stories, but there are safety catches along the way in this work, which makes it a work that you won’t have too many nightmares from. The primary strengths of this work lie, however, not in the narrative itself, but in the performances, the direction and the technical input, which conjures up the whole Karoo and all its secrets with detailed clarity in your mind’s eye. Like yarns of the ilk of Martyn le Roux’s Die Pelsloper, Road Trip is a tale that gives voice to the kind of scary things that populate South Africa’s rural byways, in the absence of European haunted houses or dense woods, and it’s no less creepy.
- Road Trip is written by Corné Joubert. Directed by Frieda van den Heever, and featuring technical input by Cassie Lowers, it is performed by Roeline Daneel, Charlton George, Chris Majiedt, Geon Nel, Cintaine Schutte, and broadcasts on RSG on December 6 at 8pm, and at 1am on Monday December 10, in the radio station’s all night programme, Deurnag. It is also available on podcast: rsg.co.za