Review: Daniel Newton’s play,The Rangers, playback of memory and narratives, triggering in multiple directions- drama of the absurd which is poignant and challenging

The Rangers – written and directed by Daniel Newton
Where: Baxter Masambe Theatre
When: March 15 to April 1, 2023
Cast: Nicholas Pauling, Aidan Scott and Lyle October
Design (set and lighting): Patrick Curtis
Costume design: The cast – excellent

Bookings:  or see    

Last night, March 15, 2023, I watched the preview performance of Daniel Barney Newton’s, debut play, The Rangers, in the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre. Often with previews, there are glitches and with loadshedding, that can add to production issues but I can say, that this performance rolled out seamlessly, with no hitches. This review contains some production spoilers. It was great to be this performance- an almost full-house for a preview- how amazing is that – when one thinks that not long ago- we locked out of performance spaces.

It is thrilling to see vital new writing – with brilliant casting. It is an inspired choice to have Nicholas Pauling and Aiden Scott play brothers, with their wonderful vocal skills ( those yummy voices) and Lyle October as the jovial, charming, gleefully inebriated, travel mate (and lifelong friend) who has schlepped along as the estranged brothers re-unite, after a decade; in a zushed up cabin in the boondocks in Canada. The cabin has central heating. It is like a glamping version of the hunter in the woods: Terrific design by Patrick Curtis- conjuring up the nest/man-cave of the ranger boet who disappeared from his family in South Africa, when unspeakable things happened. Now, he is in full hunting regalia, with his rifle, and his trophies of kill, displayed as home décor. He has his meat and his truck (in Canada, it is a bakkie). He is chilled – until – his brother and his bestie– invade his space. Newton’s script nails that- the rupturing of this intimate space. It is his hunting, killing ground, but still it is his refuge.

The interaction between the trio sizzles and snaps. They are all rangers – on the hunt – for truth- with playback of memory and narratives triggering in multiple directions. The pace is great, rhythmic and fast. Within the tight confines of the cabin, the protagonists are constantly on the move, on the hunt. The dialogue rips with terrific word play-which intersects wryly with how we speak as South Africans and how that argot differs from Canada. I loved the script. I loved the interactions between the trio and the way they prowl around each other and around the tightly packed cabin, full of stuff. It is not easy to write a play and direct. This is Newton’s debut and I think that it is impressive.

To go with imagery and metaphors in the play, I think that the narrative could be fleshed out further. There are hints of what could have happened, to rip the brothers apart but that is held back by Newton; to keep us hanging, dangling, thinking. I wanted to know but in a snap-chat after the play, he said that he had that he had in the script, but decided to take it out. There is a reveal but I would have liked that heightened. Still, I was amazed at this play and the way Newton has placed the narrative in Canada- so that the protagonists are dislocated, out of their home ground. The past in South Africa is very much another country – with heaps of emotional baggage. This narrative framing (frames are a leitmotif in this play), takes the gaze away from here, to over ‘there’, where everything comes to crunch point and becomes unhinged (brace yourselves, yikes). The hunting rifle prop (I hope that it was a prop) also pinged for me profoundly in terms of war, guns, national service in Apartheid South Africa, gun violence in America (yes, I know the play is set in Canada) and the notion of men being men by taking up arms; to pose as ‘real men’.

Daniel Newton bowled me over last year [2022] when I saw him in his acting role in Shadow Boxing at the Baxter. He has been nominated for a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for that play (best performance in a revue, cabaret or one person show).  I think that The Rangers, signals his entry into the South African theatre sector as an exciting new voice in playwriting and as a directing talent.

Most of team on The Rangers has FDC 2023 nods [to be announced March 26, 2023]. Patrick Curtis has been nominated for best set design for Nadia Davids’ Hold Still. For The Rangers, he has plotted out the set and lighting– with extraordinary attention to detail. For instance, there are gas bottles as props, stacked under the table; everything required for a man who revels in his hermit like self-sufficiency. Nicholas Pauling has been nominated for a FDC for best performance as lead actor in a play (Scott Sparrow’s Dinner with the 42s). Lyle October was in the FDC nominated, Hold Still (I think that he deserved a nomination for his role, just saying). Aiden Scott was recently in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Maynardville and I think that role deserves a FDC nomination.

All up, The Rangers team has pulled together an exciting psycho-tripping play. It is enjoyable, funny, scary (oh Nicholas Pauling, I wouldn’t want to encounter your dude in a cabin in a forest) and drills into issues of unhappy families, hunting, the need to kill or be killed; blood ties of family and friends and… I am not going to plot spoil. I loved the absurdist spin and would have like that to also have been sharpened- perhaps with things happening to the set-but that would take money. I must mention the creepy, hideous costume of Nicholas Pauling in hunting gear. The cast put the costumes together- fabulous. Go and see The Rangers by this dream team. The Rangers is absurdist, funny and triggers a lot in many directions. It is play which challenges the audience to puzzle what they have seen and how it makes them feel, as voyeurs into a hunting ground. OhMY when you say ‘oh my heart’ – well – uhhhm.

Bringing it to the table: Lyle October in The Rangers, by Daniel Newton, at the Baxter Masambe, 2023. The others in the cast: Nicholas Pauling and Aiden Scott. Pic: Supplied.

✳ Featured image: Aiden Scott and Nicholas Pauling in The Rangers, by Daniel Newton, at the Baxter Masambe, 2023. The third member of the cast is Lyle September, Supplied pic.