Being the writer-in-residence at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, there was much fanfare about Louis Viljoen’s first offering, The Eulogists. This award-winning playwright has after all written and produced acclaimed work such as The Bile Boys, The Kingmakers, The Pervert Laura, Oh Baby, I’m A Wild One and The Emissary.
And, as usual, Viljoen was not swept up in the hype and focused on what he does best: creating masterful, thought-provoking theatre. The Eulogists smacks you in the face and wrenches your gut until you defencelessly acknowledge that your own reality is taking place on stage. You want to believe that the story is foreign, because that allows you to stand in comfort and not confront your reality.
The narrative is simple: media from all over the world have descended on a small town, covering the last few days and hours of the life of a great stateman. It’s easy to think of them as vultures going after the carcass of a juicy story.
Audrey (played by Emily Child) is a flash-in-the-pan author who once followed the leader for a year and wrote a best-seller about their time. Her personal story in how he changed her life is intertwined with his narrative of bringing a nation hope. Zee (Kiroshan Naidoo), an ambitious researcher, shares a room with her and, besides dealing with his own parallel battles, he uncovers a complicated and damning story which he believes the world deserves to know about. Harris (Pierre Malherbe), a correspondent for an American radio station, joins the conversation to interview Audrey about her next book – a follow-up on the first one. However, he complicates the issues and the audience begins to realise that there’s more than one side to most things.
At first, it seems the world of authors, researchers and foreign correspondents are out of reach – there is no way these three individuals and this desolate town can have any bearing on your life, or even society at large. But then, something magical happens: without even mentioning “South Africa”, “Nelson Mandela” or “democracy”, we realise the plot resonates deeply with the final days of Madiba in December 2013.
Times flies by and I almost forgot I am watching a theatre piece. Its feels utterly real and we tend to get so caught up in the conversation that, at times, we wish to join them on stage and give our opinion. Can one really see a person as a saint? Is it not precisely these transitional moments in history that gives us hope? What is your legacy after your final breath of air?
The actors are all superb and Child especially delivers a strong performance. Her character is complicated and she manages to bring these intricacies to light. It’s rare that the acting and directing makes the audience feel part of a show, but director Greg Karvellas’ vision is encapsulated in the set and lighting. With such inviting elements and acting, and a great and relatable story line, The Eulogists ignites hope, and pioneers a way forward in troubling times.
The Eulogists is on at the Fugard Theatre until 17 June 2017.