Some plays you choose to watch watch, others you need to watch. Mongiwekhaya’s I See You is one of those plays that you need to watch, particularly if you are South African.
The play revolves around two men. Officer Buthelezi is a former freedom fighter. His life is falling apart, his wife has kicked him out of the house and he is in a constant state of rage. Ben is an optimistic young Law student in his first year of study. When he goes out one night, he meets Skin, an enigmatic young girl with a knack for getting into trouble. She asks him if he wants to go out for a drive and a smoke. The pair are pulled over by Buthelezi and his partner Masinga.
Ben is not drunk, but worried about his future career if he gets arrested. Buthelezi is furious to find a young black man, who can’t speak his mother tongue, together with a white Afrikaans girl. He wrongfully arrests Ben and is determined to force him to remember his ‘blackness’. Ben is thrown into a nightmare, one that he feels he will never get out of.
I See You is an incredibly powerful play that deals with the complexity surrounding our democratic country, with an emphasis on how the new generation of South Africans or ‘Born–Frees’ encounter the countries traumatised past. Mongiwekhaya has perfectly weaved a story that illustrates the older generations anger at the past and the younger generation’s dismissive attitude towards it. Neither side is right, rather their thoughts and feeling are shaped and by circumstance, and in watching Ben and Buthelezi you can’t help but think where you stand.
Mongiwekhaya’s script is brilliantly brought to life by unbelievable performances. Desmond Dube’s portrayal of Officer Buthelezi is mind blowing. From the second he walks onto the stage, you feel all of his anger and disappointment. Even at the peak of his cruelty, you can’t hate him because you know he is frustrated and in pain. Dube is greatly complimented by Bayo Gbadamosi who plays Ben. The tensions between the two is so apparent, if feels like a physical thing in the room. There were moments between the two, that made my heart pound so hard, I thought the whole theatre could hear it.
One of the most striking features of the production is the layout of the stage. It is set up like a runway, with audience members sitting on either side of the stage, as well as in front. The set is stripped down, forcing you to focus on the characters. I was sitting on the side, which meant I was extremely close to the action. The characters come right up to you, maintain eye contact with you and at time it feels like you are intruding on their private moments. It’s a bit unnerving, but that just adds to the wonderful tension of the play. The subject matter is uncomfortable and you should feel it, but most importantly, you should confront it.
I See You is a triumph, not only because of the incredible production, sincere performances and emotive response, but because it asks those hard questions about South Africa that many of us choose to dismiss or ignore. Like I said, it is a play we all need to watch.
When Friday 13 May 2016 at 7:30 pm (until Saturday 28 May 2016)
Where Fugard Theatre, Corner Caledon and Lower Buitenkant Streets, District Six
Cost R80 at Computicket
Contact +27 21 461 4554, www.thefugard.com
Photography courtesy Johan Persson