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Review: I See You, Royal Court Theatre upstairs

I_See_You-large_trans++YFziz8YEm6VE5aYFlxYehSem-Qse8IphuPOElFEbsmQThere are moments when you are watching playwright and performer Mongiwekhaya's I See You at the Royal Court that it feels like it's been pulled straight from a Kafka novel.

Ben (Bayo Gbadamosi), a black South African law student, has met Skinn (Jordan Baker) a street-wise white girl at a club and they are stopped in her car by two black police officers. Ben is bundled into the back of the police van and supposedly taken off to a police station for a breathalyser test. So far, so un-Kafkaesque but once he is there he is asked to sign form but isn't allowed to read what he's signing.  When he refuses he is documented as uncooperative.

It is the start of a physically and psychologically violent evening for Ben in which he is being punished for something that isn't his fault. I See You is essentially a play about identity. Buthelezi (Desmond Dube) who arrests Ben fought to overturn apartheid only to find that he has paved the way for a new, educated generation who seem to take freedom for granted and who can't even speak their mother tongue. He feels cast aside after his sacrifices and the horrors he experienced while fighting. He takes it out on Ben who was brought up outside South Africa and only speaks English.

Ben's own sense of identity is challenged when Buthelezi offers release from the horror of the evening if he speaks in his mother tongue. By the end of the encounter all the things that made him who he is, that gave him his sense of self - his education and upbringing - cannot help him and count for nothing.

This is a tense and challenging drama mixing a nightmarish scenario of what you think would never happen, with the challenges facing a nation coming together after conflict. It's not always an easy watch but it is a play that lingers in your mind long after you've left the theatre. I'm giving it four stars.

It is an hour and 20 minutes without an interval and is on at the Royal Court until 26 March.