I See You at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
It’s been an exciting few months for Noma Dumezweni. She delivered an outstanding performance when she replaced Kim Cattrall last minute in the Royal Court’s production of Linda, and she was cast as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Shen is now making her directorial debut with post-apartheid commentary, I See You by Mongiwekhaya.
Ben, a young law student at Wits University, meets Skinn, described as a “totally Zef Afrikaner girl”, and the two get pulled over by policemen who suspect they’ve been drinking and driving. One of the officers, Buthelezi, a former freedom fighter, is struggling with his failed marriage; his cynicism offers a menacing and alarming insight into the racial and cultural dissent within the post-apartheid regime.
Language and dialect play an incredibly significant role in this gripping production, co-produced by Johannesburg’s Market Theatre. “I see you,” a very common Zulu greeting, acknowledges a companion as well as sparks the growing tension associated with South Africa’s corrupted history. Ben, an innocent born after apartheid, serves as the figure of the reformed South Africa – a modern mould oblivious to his heritage and its cultural and linguistic complexities. Bayo Gbadamosi delivers a thoughtful and empathetic performance as Ben, contrasting with Desmond Dube’s volatile, plagued Officer Buthelezi. The tormenting scenes are a harrowing visualisation of the struggle between loyal black citizens and the newer generation of educated black South Africans who choose to use English instead of their mother tongue.
Dumezweni’s production is tense and uncomfortable, particularly in the intimate, enclosed space, with the audience encroaching on three sides. The proximity increases the tension as theatregoers see every bead of sweat and falling tear. This vision of contemporary South Africa is eye-opening, displaying the disconnect between a nation, its tortured history and its citizens isolated by forgotten language.
I See You is on at the Royal Court Upstairs from 25th February until 26th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.