A Human Being Died That Night – reviews of apartheid drama

Jun 2, 2014

Remarkable play based on interviews with a notorious apartheid-era killer is unmissable, say critics

© Robert Day

What you need to know
South African drama A Human Being Died That Night has opened at the Hampstead Theatre, London. Nicholas Wright's play is based on the best-selling book by Truth and Reconciliation Commission psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. 

Set in South Africa in 1997, the play follows Gobodo-Madikizela as she interviews the apartheid regime's most notorious assassin, Eugene de Kock, nick-named Prime Evil and now serving a 212 year prison sentence, in an attempt to discover what makes a man become a mass murderer. 

This Fugard Theatre production, directed by Jonathan Munby and starring Noma Dumezweni and Matthew Marsh, first appeared at the Hampstead Theatre in 2013 before touring South Africa. Runs until 21 June. 

What the critics like
This remarkable play depicts real-life interviews with an apartheid-era killer, with "a jaw-dropping, matter-of-fact vividness", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. The 80-minute production is intense, but thrillingly so, and cut with humour. 

Raising complex, painful questions about responsibility and reconciliation, this piece is "unmissable", says Paul Taylor in The Independent. It's an extraordinarily intense production without an iota of sensationalism in a profoundly searching duologue.

Wright's play, with its scorching, vivid performances "cleverly excavates the natural drama of the situation", says Lyn Gardner in The Guardian. As a white Afrikaner man and a black African woman face each other across a table, we see, not just two people, but the old South Africa and the new.

What they don't like 
Critics have nothing negative to say about the play, but Jane Shilling in the Daily Telegraph admits the show is "agonisingly taut". This is 80 minutes of intense emotional compression, says Shilling, "which seems to embody the anguish of a nation whose travails are far from over".

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