It’s not every day you get to peer inside the head of a mass murderer, sent down for 212 years for crimes against humanity. This is the repulsive/compelling proposition offered by A Human Being Died That Night, which takes us straight into the prison cell of state-sanctioned mass murderer Eugene De Kock.
Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, psychologist and member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, documented her real-life interviews with de Kock, who committed murders ordered by the State during Apartheid in South Africa, in her 2003 book. Now it’s been dramatized for the stage by Nicholas Wright, who makes his Hampstead Downstairs debut with this grizzly psychological play that asks some tough questions.
Is there a human heart beating within De Kock whose brutality earned him the name ‘prime-evil’? And what part might others play in the guilt — from those who schooled him in brutality to the state powers who sanctioned and demanded the killings? Stirring the muddy waters of history and past trauma can only be done successfully by a person who has been there. This is an important rendering, therefore, of an awful moment in a nation’s past. Not since The Exonerated at Riverside Studios, which shed a light on confessions of (wrongfully accused) death row inmates, have we been granted access so honestly from behind the prison cell bars.
A Human Being Died That Night is on at Hampstead Downstairs until 15 June. Tickets £5-£12