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Gruesome but curiously toothless revival.
When it premiered in 1985, Reza de Wet’s gruesome drama ‘African Gothic’ was a timely inversion of cosy Afrikaans domestic and literary tropes. The prosperous farm with its happy white family and kindly domestic staff twisted into a nightmare of incest and decay, a new national narrative of degeneration to mirror the darkest excesses of European gothic.
Revived in the here and now, there’s plenty of horror and black humour. But without the socio-political context – or any attempt in director Roger Mortimer’s production to hint at it – we’re left with a predictable and even unremarkable slice of Grand Guignol.
Oliver Gomm and Janna Fox are both impressive as the feral and child-like brother and sister, tumbling through a psychosexual nightmare of re-enactments from their earlier childhood – punishments for masturbation and wet dreams. Adam Ewan is best of all as hapless lawyer Grové who turns up on their disintegrating farm and spends a hideous night in their company. It’s traditional creepshow territory, with a chorus of jackals prowling unseen outside the house, and stories of mutilations and murder.
There’s a pleasingly flyblown set from designer Nancy Surman and atmospheric lighting from Jack Weir, but lifted out of its time and place in the story of Afrikaans dramatic and cultural revival, all it can really offer is some seriously uncomfortable but ultimately quite conventional gothic horror.