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A Human Being Died That Night

Members say: Great writing, Intense, Thought-provoking, Dizzying, Intelligent
90
Critics
90
30 reviews
Members
87
3 reviews
 

A white male assassin for the apartheid state is visited in prison by a black female psychologist. Critically acclaimed in South Africa and the UK, this powerful production has its US premiere at BAM.

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Prime Evil is what South Africans call him. In Nicholas Wright’s play, based on the best-selling 2003 book by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Eugene de Kock is visited in his prison cell by a black female psychologist to discern man from government-sanctioned monster. In an interrogation that moves from dispassionate to deeply intimate, a remorseful de Kock and his interlocutor negotiate a fraught emotional space in which fear and compassion coexist.

 

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Reviews (33)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
90
Avg Score

90
The New York Times

"Quietly gripping and superbly acted drama...'A Human Being Died That Night' is dense with details about the violent chaos that marked the final years of apartheid. It can at times feel like a dramatized history lesson. The central theme, the mystery of the banality of evil, has been delved into many times before...But even the occasional awkward passage doesn’t detract from the emotional impact. " Full Review

95
Theatermania

"Some of the best political theater on earth is currently being written and produced in South Africa. 'A Human Being Died That Night' tackles the radioactive subject of apartheid-era counterinsurgency policeman Eugene de Kock, whose campaign of violence against antiapartheid activists earned him the nickname 'Prime Evil.' The play is simultaneously astute and emotional, without devolving into sentimentality. That turns out to be an ideal mix for examining a fraught subject like this one." Full Review

85
New York Post

"Some of the best scenes, like the description of a bombing and an anecdote about headphones rigged to explode, are as suspenseful as mini-thrillers — which is saying something since the show consists of two people conversing around a table...The show isn’t about settling scores. Wright and director Jonathan Munby explore truth-digging as a necessary step on the way to national reconciliation, and you can see their point in the grand scheme of things." Full Review

85
New York Magazine / Vulture

"Enormously compelling...In light of the play’s importance, and its gripping story, it is barely relevant that as dramatic literature it feels slightly undernourished. In compressing the years of interviews, Wright has imposed a dramatic arc that fits a bit lumpily over the contours of the material. There are a few too many lines like 'the difference between good and evil is only paper thin,' and surprisingly little psychology for a play about a psychologist." Full Review

95
BlogCritics.org

"Powerful, superbly acted...Wright’s script, Jonathan Munby’s direction, and two actors of great subtlety and range turn this story into a fascinating dual portrait for the stage." Full Review

85
Broadway Black

"A gripping post-apartheid drama...The play has a running time of 80 minutes but in that tiny slice of time you can truly see the unfolding of five years of what I dare to call an intimate relationship play out." Full Review

85
The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production "Wright's play, which gets scorching, vivid performances, cleverly excavates the natural drama of the situation, in which a white Afrikaner man and a black African woman face each other across a table...It's hard to watch, not least because in our hearts we all know, as Gobodo-Madikizela knows, that there are no monsters in this world, only other human beings just like us." Full Review

90
British Theatre Guide

for a previous production "By the end of this two-hander in which we learn much about both characters as well as the country that engendered these crimes and brought the pair together, it is possible to feel simultaneous hatred and sympathy for Eugene De Kock at the same time as great admiration for Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela." Full Review

100
The Independent (UK)

for a previous production "There's not one iota of sensationalism in this profoundly searching duologue about guilt and forgiveness expertly adapted by Nicholas Wright from the penetrating book of the same name...Raising complex, painful questions about responsibility and reconciliation, this 80-minute piece is unmissable." Full Review

95
The London Evening Standard

for a previous production "Wright wants to expose familiar notions of blame and resentment to fresh scrutiny. As he explores this psychologically rich terrain, he certainly isn’t constructing a case for de Kock’s defence. But he does present him as a complex man and an unlikely villain...This nuanced picture of the couple’s encounters makes for an intimate and intense experience." Full Review

80
Time Out London

for a previous production "As an exploration of forgiveness, and an unveiling of the disturbing ease with which humanity can commit terrible acts of cruelty ‘A Human Being Died…’ is riveting. It brings the hell of apartheid sharply into focus. The play is weaker where Wright confuses the subtleties of Gobodo-Madikizela’s and De Kock’s relationship: though it’s clear there’s an understanding between interviewer and interviewee, the suggestion that there’s a hint of friendship doesn’t really work." Full Review

100
Theatre Cat

for a previous production "Stunningly real; they go through painful changes...It is as if this 85-minute experience distills and condenses that extraordinary process of South African reconciliation, with all its anger and all its hope. When de Kock ends his final anecdote with a blurted, choking “A human being died that night” you feel, with a shock, that one was born, too." Full Review

85
There Ought To Be Clowns

for a previous production "The tight focus of the play, just two prison visits between the pair are covered albeit across a period of six years, means that there is the occasional lull where similar ground is retrodden and the pace slips a little...The sharp intelligence of the text, the genuinely thought-provoking nature of the subject matter and its brave ambiguity in place of easy moral judgement makes it a mesmerising watch and a privileged opportunity to watch such great acting up close." Full Review

90
Exeunt Magazine

for a previous production "The pace is fast and proceedings interesting to watch, in spite of the fact that you are essentially looking at two people sitting and talking for over an hour, one of them literally chained to his seat. It’s a tense, pared-back piece of drama, and although it sometimes demands of its audience a more in-depth knowledge of South African history, the themes are universal." Full Review

80
Camden Review

for a previous production "This gripping portrait of a killer, based on several years of interviews with the former South Africa death squad commander Eugene de Kock, asks searching questions and will leave you squirming in your seat...Nicholas Wright’s play reminded me of the tribunal-style verbatim plays put on at the Tricycle Theatre...But the script lacked the fizz of electricity that made those productions so explosive." Full Review

90
The Telegraph (UK)

for a previous production "In 80 minutes of intense emotional compression, the pair’s relationship moves from a cautious duel of interrogation and revelation to a difficult intimacy, in which pity and horror are mingled with a quality that can only be described as grace...In Jonathan Munby’s elegantly spare production, the actors approach the moral and emotional complexities of Wright’s script with a grave restraint that becomes more agonisingly taut with each new revelation." Full Review

90
Independent Online (South Africa)

for a previous production "It is a tightly scripted, intense, well-crafted, very human interrogation of the ongoing relationship between victims and perpetrators of apartheid. Also the trauma of repressive violence when seen in a broader context, but specifically apartheid because the story is couched in the narrative of Gobodo-Madikizela interviewing Eugene de Kock...The transitions are seamless and the pacing never dips." Full Review

100
Ham&High Broadway

for a previous production "Jonathan Munby’s electrifying production begins in classic horror territory, our devil in orange jumpsuit shackled to the floor – until de Kock himself references Silence Of The Lambs with wry irony...It’s a searingly intelligent study of a society struggling to heal, placing collective responsibility and reciprocal clemency against an endless cycle of recrimination. Yet Gobodo-Madikizela is adamant that “forgiveness is not forgetting.”" Full Review

100
Words of Colour

for a previous production "An intense and intimate production that takes you from a light and open conference hall to a dimly light prison space which both unnerves and enlightens. 'A Human Being Died That Night' is a powerful, heart stopping and thought-provoking piece, raising difficult and complex questions about forgiveness and reconciliation which applies well beyond South Africa." Full Review

90
Afridiziak Theatre News

for a previous production "The dramatization is a poignant and claustrophobic exploration of how these two people found themselves on either side of the prison bars. Purely dialogical, the two actors resonate with emotion. Lighting and sound are effected with subtlety, occasionally emphasizing or highlighting the words being spoken...Mostly, this play is two people both seeking the answers to forgiving and being forgiven." Full Review

85
The Arts Desk

for a previous production "Seeing the two of them face each other across the table offers a glimpse of the moral frontier of the new South Africa... they share citizenship of the same nation, but each has a different native tongue and struggles to admit they have anything in common. And yet here they are, trying to find the humanity in one of the most inhumane periods of human history. Amid all the gory, desperate stories this play contains, the very fact that it exists at all should give us hope for the future." Full Review

100
A Younger Theatre

for a previous production "'A Human Being Died That Night' is theatre, truly, at its most sublime and gut-wrenching...This play is a moving study on forgiveness and reconciliation: two rights that supplant the control of government, community or culture. They are divine rights. And, it feels by the play’s end that the people of South Africa are saint-like for having moved past such a horrendous and devastating history." Full Review

95
City AM

for a previous production "Among the secret service personnel working for the apartheid government, no one used the word “kill.” Instead people were “dealt with” or “taken for a drive.” Such linguistic sleights of hand are steadfastly avoided in 'A Human Being Died That Night,' a taut, brilliantly acted play that looks with a scientific eye at the politics and psychology of forgiveness and guilt." Full Review

100
What's On Stage (UK)

for a previous production "Nicholas Wright has fashioned something timeless from the original book by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. Anything on the theme of apartheid has inherent drama of a high-octane variety, and in Wright's hands, and those of his director Jonathan Munby, it is given a concise, succinct and gripping examination. A five-star piece of theatre." Full Review

100
What's on in Cape Town

for a previous production "I left with my heart bruised and my head spinning. Plays like these are not entertainment – they are catalysts for dialogue and illumination on the dark history that lingers under the surface of our collective consciousness. 'A Human Being Died That Night' is not easy viewing – it’s essential viewing." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
87
Avg Score

90
Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great writing

See it if you want a play that causes you to think about race relations and history. It is wonderfully acted with a sparse but effective set.

Don't see it if you don't like plays based on history. Or travelling to Brooklyn.

88
Dizzying, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great writing, Entertaining

See it if you have an interest in major crime

Don't see it if you can't handle hearing victims recall or facing the reality of mass murder.

79
Absorbing, Great staging

See it if You are looking for some reflective theater...

Don't see it if You are uncomfortable with heavy themes