How well do you know your own history? Would you be able to talk to it under scary scrutiny by a cop with a past replete with anger? With this premise, playwright Mongiwekhaya makes his debut in a beautifully constructed piece of theatre which feels like the opening lines of a brand new chapter in South African narrative.
Ben (Bayo Gbadamosi) is a 19-year-old law student at Wits University. He’s armed with the casual high-spiritedness of youth, his virginity and a personal history which took him out of the South African context as a very young child. Skinn (Jordan Baker) is about the same age. Does she turn tricks or is she just a good-time girl? We don’t get to find out.
Their rendezvous is intruded upon by members of the South African police who are on a mission, and Ben and Skinn just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, forcing Ben into a terrifying merry-go-round of mockery, brutality and cultural identity. This hard-edged piece of work cuts deep into an understanding of contemporary politics, fears and vulnerabilities. It features a smooth cleavage between performance and script – the work is well-written, the characters, satisfyingly three-dimensional and the narrative boldly constructed.
Similar in many respects to Steven Sidley and Kate Sidley’s recently staged play Shape, I See You offers potent and important insight into what it means to be a young South African right now, 22 years after democracy and Mongiwekhaya takes no prisoners in flaying open the issues of black privilege as he looks on abandoned roots and history of resentment.
It’s a high octane, visually minimal set, which is dotted with choreographic moments and a dj, that from the outset feels like a novelty that doesn’t really contribute to the work. Looking beyond a red herring of a prologue which sets a night club scene, you will find extremely fine performances by Desmond Dube as Buthelezi as well as Gbadamosi and Jordan, as you will find an engagement with the audience and the space and the narrative which belies the youth of the performers.
While the cast does seem unnecessarily large, there’s a maturity in the unpacking of this fresh young tale that offers hope to the theatre industry going forward. This is the voice of theatre’s future: it’s bold, it’s bare and it knows where it is going.
- Read further social commentary on I See You here.
- I See You is written by Mongiwekhaya and directed by Noma Dumezweni. It features design by Soutra Gilmour (set); Richard Howell (lighting); Luyanda Sidiya (movement); and Giles Thomas (sound) and it is performed by Jordan Baker, Desmond Dube, Bayo Gbadamosi, Austin Hardiman, Sibusiso Mamba, Amaka Okafor and Lunga Radebe. The work is a collaboration between the Market Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre in London, and it performs at the Laager Theatre, Market Theatre Complex in Newtown until May 1. Call 0118321641 or visit co.za