Apartheid may have ended in South Africa in 1994, but its years remain a heavy burden for those who lived in its squalid shadow. Premiering in London after debuting in the UK in 2002, Paul Herzberg’s powerful play – loosely inspired by his own experiences as a soldier in the South African army – is a kinetic mix of pain, anger and endurance.
In the late ’80s, white South African athlete Josh Gilmore (Austin Hardiman) is conscripted and sent into the bloodshed of neighbouring Angola’s civil war. When a village massacre uncovers wounded political exile George Jozana (Maynard Eziashi), Gilmore’s racist commanding officer Papa Louw (Herzberg himself) orders him to carry Jozana back to the South African border.
Joe Harmston’s production unfolds with parable-like starkness on a featureless desert plateau. Gilmore and Jozana’s agonising trek both bonds and destroys them, with a tyrannical Louw driving them onwards. Eziashi and Hardiman give punishingly raw performances as two men trapped in physical and psychological hell.
As the pair’s journey ends in horror, the play jumps to the post-Apartheid present day. Gilmore’s shoulders bear the load of a nation still struggling with countless atrocities buried after the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings. Trying to bring a now embittered and alcoholic Louw to justice is also a way for the former athlete to run from his own actions.
Adelayo Adedayo is riveting as Jozana’s daughter, Lily, in scenes where she meets and confronts the guilt-ridden Gilmore about her father’s fate. Her character’s cold fury at his 20-year silence is Herzberg at his most eloquent and uncompromising.
By Tom Wicker
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I saw it on 8th November and I was most impressed. The performance was powerful and the story gives a clear message of how difficult it is to get over the awful experience of war and how it continues to affect people for the rest of their lives. Still, the ultimate message is that our humanity is stronger than anything else and wins. Beautiful performances. Loved it and left uplifted! Incredibly good. Thank you.