The Sin Drinkers – not a frothy light-hearted night at the theatre


WHEN I invited my friend to join me for Louis Viljoen’s new play, The Sin Drinkers, I asked her if she’d like to be traumatised while simultaneously being thrilled by a thing of beauty. “Yes please!” she replied immediately, being familiar with Viljoen’s work and therefore knowing what to expect. As he says himself (see below), his plays are not for everyone but if you know, you know.

So no, this is not a “fun” night at the theatre, but it’s a play that brims with exceptional dialogue from first line to last, delivered in Viljoen’s distinctive directorial style. A two-hander in a stark, it skilfully includes other characters – some bigger roles than others – and tells their story woven into the script, the imagery brought vividly to life. The thoughts and ideas and possibilities will sit with you for days after as you contemplate deeper meanings, and whether Frank (John Mayhem) and Theresa (Emma Kotze) did or did not achieve the redemption they both sought.

The Sin Drinkers runs in the Masambe Theatre at Baxter Theatre Centre until May 11. Here is more information about the play and its performers.

Frank, a practiced booze-hound and a hunter of people, tracks down his daughter’s best friend in the hopes of unearthing secrets and solving a mystery that has caused a rot in his soul. Theresa, an aimless young woman masking her regrets with debauchery and a sharp tongue, reluctantly invites Frank into her life in order to rectify the mistakes in her past. What follows is a darkly comedic, whisky-soaked journey into the pitch-black parts of the human psyche.

With The Sin Drinkers, writer and director Louis Viljoen reunites with broadcasting legend John Maytham and acclaimed actor Emma Kotze to tell a story of shattered lives and the dark truths that slither under people’s skins.

Viljoen has been described as a playwright who creates worlds and characters that are gleefully devious. His ability to construct extraordinary narratives out of ordinary situations, entertains in an unashamedly unconventional manner. Viljoen acknowledges that his aim is not to create theatre for everyone, but for those who appreciate pushing boundaries. His plays are often peppered with dark humour, biting wit, and intense emotional exploration. With a fearless yet philosophic approach he uses profanity and explicit sexual references as tools with which to expose human cruelty, power struggles and the darkness that lurks beneath the seedy underbelly of life. Social taboos feed the thought-provoking boldness of his work, which isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Keith Bain (Daily Maverick) has described Viljoen’s style as “terrifyingly intimate… with clever turns of phrase and prose that borders on poetry” as “dark comic twists and turns… invariably take us into a universe of upside-down morality”. Veteran journalist, author and stand-up comedian, Marianne Thamm, also proclaims that Viljoen’s “scalpel-wielding writing… kicks boring English into shape”, while theatre critic, Beverley Brommert (Theatre Scene Cape Town) characterises Viljoen’s ghoulish theatre style as “sharply witty” with “well-considered direction” that “rates highly as worthwhile theatre”.

Emma Kotze first stepped into a world of Viljoen’s creation in Oh, Baby I’m A Wild One (2016), where she delivered an endearing yet unsettling performance as a desperate young woman in search of salvation. Years later she took that Viljoen experience further in the more mature, and inevitably darker, The Grass Widow (2023). Kotze is excited to take this exploration of Viljoen’s work further as she steps into the role of Theresa.

With his distinctive modulated voice, John Maytham takes on the role of Frank opposite Kotze’s Theresa. Maytham too is well-acquainted with the distinctive style of Viljoen’s plays. His performance in The Outlaw Muckridge (a significant theatre experience as the first production staged at The Baxter when theatres reopened to limited audiences in October 2020) showcased his versatility and ability to bring a complex character to life, with a clear understanding of the unique blend of language, imagery, and storytelling that characterise Viljoen’s plays.

After their successful collaboration with The Grass Widow and The Visigoths, Viljoen reunites with designer Kieran McGregor. McGregor understands how to create the isolated worlds in which Viljoen’s character’s reveal their twisted tales, as he adds his own exceptional design aesthetic. This will be McGregor’s fourth project working alongside Viljoen.

The haunting tale at the centre of Frank and Theresa’s encounter in The Sin Drinkers may not be for the marginally sensitive or the easily offended, but it promises to move and surprise you as they reveal their darkest transgressions. Will their journey lead them to a point of redemption or are they forever doomed to just pour another drink to soothe their scarred souls?

The Sin Drinkers carries an age restriction of 18 for explicit language and scenes of a sexual nature. Tickets are available online through Webtickets and range from R130 to R170 per person. More info here.


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