Review: I See You Lacks An Edge

I See You at Royal Court Theatre ★★★☆☆

By Victoria Thomas Last edited 36 months ago
Review: I See You Lacks An Edge I See You at Royal Court Theatre 3
Desmond Dube (left) as Buthelezi and Bayo Gbadamosi (right) as Ben in I See You. Image: BBC

It's a bold, message-laden directorial debut from Olivier Award-winning actress (and future Hermione Granger) Noma Dumezweni, but I See You somehow misses its mark.

This is a journey through a Friday night in post-Apartheid South Africa following black law student Ben (Bayo Gbadamosi), who's mistakenly pulled over for drink driving after being picked up by street-smart girl, Skinn (Jordan Baker). Former freedom fighter turned police officer Buthelezi (a strong performance from Desmond Dube), obsessed by the collapse of his marriage, can't let Ben go. Insisting on a blood test, he and colleague Masinga (Sibusiso Mamba) occupy their night shift asserting their power, while trying to make Ben admit his guilt.

It's a story of identity — Ben's ridiculed by the police officers for his failure to understand their use of Afrikaans, as they question his heritage, calling him "white boy". "We both look black," Buthelzi yells at one point, "but only one of us is black". In a society still obsessed by division, Buthelezi especially, can't forget fighting for his own identity.

Produced in partnership with Market Theatre, Johannesburg, this piece marks the Royal Court debut for writer Mongiwekhaya. However, his frequent use of Afrikaans makes the dialogue hard to follow.

If Mongiwekhaya's intention was to alienate the audience, perhaps making us question our own identities, then this is achieved. But not understanding large chunks of text means we're left wondering if we've missed a vital plot point and a few exchanges between characters lose their impact as they slip between languages.

This could have been the adrenaline-filled ride through a night out it promised in the first 10 minutes. Instead it feels like I See You never quite gets to the climax. There are tense moments — a fight between Buthelezi and Ben, Skinn's appeal to the audience to help her find him — but something is missing. It's a brave tackling of black on black violence and some fine performances, but I See You lacks a dynamic edge.

I See You is on at the Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, until 26 March 2016. Tickets are £20/£15 and can be purchased in advance online. Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 07 March 2016