Matthew Marsh as Eugene de Kock


DIRECTOR: Jonathan Munby

CAST: Noma Dumezweni, Matthew Marsh, Gantane Kusch

VENUE: The Studio, The Fugard Theatre

UNTIL: March 15

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

WHILE it starts as a lecture being delivered by psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, A Human Being Died That Night is anything but a didactic exercise.

Instead it is a tightly scripted, intense, well-crafted, very human interrogation of the ongoing relationship between victims and perpetrators of apartheid. Also the trauma of repressive violence when seen in a broader context, but specifically apartheid because the story is couched in the narrative of Gobodo-Madikizela (Dumezweni) interviewing Eugene de Kock (Marsh, pictured).

The author’s voice comes through strongly – this is, after all, based on a book written by Gobodo-Madikizela – but the narratives from both parties are evenly presented, with not all lines of dialogue lifted straight off the pages.

The undressed stone of the Studio upstairs at the Fugard Theatre adds to the chill created by the prison bars around three sides of the stage, with the fourth wall being open and occasionally broken by Gobodo-Madikizela.

She steps away from the lectern and into a prison interview room where she interacts with de Kock, and while she moves freely between the two positions he remains manacled to the floor right up to the end of the play.

While at the lectern she addresses the audience directly, explains her motivation in setting up the interviews, the scope of her research into issues of trauma, forgiveness and reconciliation and, especially interesting, how her world view has changed over the years.

Stepping back into his world, though, she is forced to confront every victim’s fear of discovering the perpetrator of a violent act as human.

The transitions are seamless and the pacing never dips.

Dumezweni is focused, a model of restraint as Gobodo-Madikizela tries to, if not empathise, listen and hear what he says without influencing his words.

She pushes and doggedly follows her line of questioning like any good psychologist, but she also reveals a bit of her own insecurity every now and then so she’s not some cold cipher, but a warm, strong person.

How does a fundamentally moral person become a mass murderer is what she is trying to find out but ultimately what she does discover, to her own discomfort, is his humanity.

He calls himself a veteran of lost ideologies and presents himself as a cog in the machine, following orders, angry that his superiors are not in the same boat as him. But every time they meet, she asks him “how did you feel about that?” – forcing a measure of self-reflection in de Kock, whether he wants to or not.

While we are never allowed to forget that this is prime evil himself – whenever she asks he goes into matter-of-fact detail about specific murders – Marsh also shows us de Kock’s humanity in the little things.

He creates a character who admits he doesn’t understand himself – but that just makes him come across as normal, which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

It is also enlightening viewing in that it forces you to question your own position on forgiveness, long after the last line “there is still so much we don’t know about each other” is spoken.