Robert Tanitch reviews A Human Being Died at Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
The subject of Nicholas Wright’s 80-minute play is the capacity for evil and the possibility of forgiveness. The performance begins in the downstairs foyer of the theatre with a brief address by the South African psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.
The audience then moves into the studio theatre to watch her interview a chained Eugene De Kock in a prison cell.
De Kock, a South African police officer, was a paid assassin for the Apartheid regime during the 1980s and early 1990s. He kidnapped, tortured and killed activists. Such was his brutality he was nicknamed Prime Evil by his own men.
De Kock was arrested in 1994. There were 121 charges. He admitted to involvement in murder, attempted murder, fraud and illegal arms possession.
He was sentenced in 1996 to solitary confinement and has been in prison for the last two decades. The High Court is at this very moment considering his request for parole
Gobodo-Madikizela is determined to be detached and not get emotionally involved. She wants to understand how he came to do what he did and what our attitude to perpetrators of such atrocities should be. But can evil on this scale ever be forgiven? It certainly can’t be forgotten.
Though the drama is a confrontation between a black woman and a white man, a confrontation between the old South Africa and the new South Africa, it never feels like a confrontation.
You never feel he is manipulating her. You never feel you are in the presence of another Hannibal Lecter. His repentance feels sincere.
He feels the guilt and blame should be shared with all those, who directly and indirectly wanted him to do what he did; and that is not limited just to those in political power.
Nicholas Wright’s script is based on Pumla Gobodo Madikizelas’s book, her interviews with Eugene De Kock and recordings from Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings.
Jonathan Munby’s production has been seen in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Noma Dumezweni and Matthew Marsh play the leading roles. It is difficult to imagine them being better acted.