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Posts Tagged ‘Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’

This was my first (long overdue) visit to Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space. As it happens the play didn’t actually start there, but in a ‘pop up’ university lecture room in the foyer where Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela recalls her visits to prison to interview Eugene de Kock after his appearances at the South African Truth & Reconciliation hearings. As she begins to describe her arrival in prison for the first time, we walk into it and take our places peering into the cell where they meet.

de Kock was known as ‘Prime Evil’ and Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist and member of the commission, is fascinated by him. During the hearings he asked to meet his victims families privately so that he could apologise. This initiative, and the expressions of forgiveness by the families, struck many and led to more meetings between perpetrators of crimes and victim’s families. It also led to Gobodo-Madikizela’s desire to understand de Kock and those like him. For the rest of the play we are with them, on two occasions six years apart, with just the occasional presence of a prison guard.

I’ve always been in awe of the concept and execution of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, convinced that I personally could never find the capacity to understand or forgive, but understanding both its power and importance. The play isn’t really about that though; it’s a peep into the mind of ‘Prime Evil’ in an attempt to understand the motivation and events behind horrific crimes.

It does prove to be a voyeuristic experience, thanks to the cell bars of Paul Wills’ design and intensity created by lights and sound, but it’s the intensity of the performances that allow you to examine and attempt to understand at an objective psychological level. Matthew Marsh (is he the most hard-working stage actor we have?) conveys a cold intelligence, seemingly devoid of any feeling or emotion with a spot-on Afrikaan accent that makes your flesh crawl recalling hearing accents like it in the past. Nomer Dumerzweni brilliantly conveys Gobodo-Madikizela’s forensic approach and suppressed horror.

Nicholas Wright has adapted Gobodo-Madikizela’s book and Jonathan Munby has staged it well to give us a very thought-provoking and insightful 80 minutes and a somehow appropriate companion piece to The Arrest of Ai WeiWei upstairs.

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