Fresh existential crises for a Covid generation

DANCING clowns and things that go boo! in the night. Image courtesy of Johan Allers.

DO DINKUM HORROR stories still exist in our dirty, misshapen world of Covid, violence and mistrust? Do they still inspire fear (rather than revulsion, cynicism or lurid humour) in the hearts of their audience members? Playwright Deon Johnston pushes a clichéd horror trope down a path spiked with absurdity in his deliciously unsettling Afrikaans-language work In Vino Veritas, which broadcasts on Kaapstad Radio’s 2:30pm programme, ‘Alles Afrikaans’, on Wednesday December 1. It shatters all expectations beautifully and in just 15 minutes.

And it is here where you meet two contemporary young men, Hannes and Ernst, on a bit of an off-the-wall adventure. It’s five in the morning and they’re at the cemetery. Clearly for nefarious reasons, armed as they are with expensive whisky. But it is here where they find something completely unexpected, even though it is, indeed, something that the history of cemetery stories and young boys on quests for wildness will tell you, totally expected.

But the unexpected and expected clichés criss-cross and matures to a level of existential wonder and wit which labels one of the boys as Mr God and leaves you with a middle finger reaching out of oblivion, conjoined with an image of cats in heaven. Wild, unpleasant ones. It’s a tale about South African boys who have become men without the hardening fire and trauma of the army, as it skirts around situations that may involve a thing that goes ‘boo!’ in the night. It offers a friendly and wise nod to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and another to Stephen King’s It.

But there’s more: This is a tale of life and death, of wine and bravado and of the quintessential meaninglessness of much of it. It’s also about how a narrative yarn can be stretched along the clean edge of the absurd rubric, and force you to lean close into your radio, with expectation. This is an unusual work from Johnston’s pen, but a potent one. Featuring a melange of sound and image that skips just beyond your ability to grab a recognised tune or image and hold onto it, the work is an astute collage of aural and visual experience that promises to unsettle and entertain.

  • In Vino Veritas is written by Deon Johnston and performed by Johan Allers. It features technical input by both Johnson and Allers and will be broadcast on ‘Alles Afrikaans’, on Kaapstad Radio on Wednesday 1 December at 2:30pm. After the work has been broadcast as a radio production, it will be available on youtube as a visual work.

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