I See You, written by Mongiwekhaya is brought to us by the Royal Court Theatre and the Market Theatre Johannesburg as part of the International Playwrights: A Genesis Foundation Project.
Set in post-apartheid South Africa at night. The opening scene: Officer Buthelezi, a metal bucket, a few personal belongings piled in front of him; shoes, socks, a watch, some Vaseline and curiously what seems to be a gift wrapped in African print cloth. Ordered, precise, silent and lonely. In contrast, Ben, a middle class university law student who has lost his mother tongue – music underscores Ben’s meeting with Skinn, an Afrikaner girl who is up for a night of fun.
What happens after Skinn’s car is stopped by Buthelezi and his partner Masinga is quite the opposite. Skinn attempts to get them out of trouble after assuring Ben: “Relax. I’ve been in this kind of situation before. Don’t say anything. I’ll do the talking.” – the feminine wiles and white privilege that seem to have exempted her in the past, only make things worse. At the close of the first scene, Buthelezi informs Ben: “I just want you to know that everything that happens to you tonight is to teach your ‘friend’ a lesson”.
Later, we learn that Buthelezi is an ex-freedom fighter with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and is a man frustrated by marital problems. This cocktail of a character is at once intelligent, aggressive, despicable, proud, wounded and charismatic. South African, Desmond Dube (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Hotel Rwanda) plays the part of anti-hero admirably; unapologetically taking you from one emotional space to another. A strong international multilingual cast including the energetic Bayo Gdadamosi as Ben, Jordan Baker as Skinn, Sibusiso Mamba as Masinga, alongside Lunga Radebe as Chief Shabangu, Austin Hardiman as James (Skinn’s ex-boyfriend), while Amaka Okafor morphs from an overworked Dr Pravesh to the shamanistic DJ Mavovo well.
There is something different and delightful about hearing four languages spoken in this play. There is something unsettling about being reminded that privilege and prejudice are ever present; they merely mutate. There is something transformative about reconciling to love someone even if their actions are fuelled by hatred.
Go and watch it while you can.
I See You runs at the Royal Court until 26th March. For more information and tickets go to the Royal Court website.
I See You will go to the Market Theatre (Johannesburg) from 13th April find out more here.
The playtext is also available for purchase here.