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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Context: A Human Being Died That Night

What are the limits of empathy? Can fear and compassion genuinely coexist? A Human Being Died That Night explores these grey areas (and more) when it brings the true story of South Africa's most notorious apartheid era assassin to the BAM Fisher May 29–June 21. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles, videos, and opinion pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already attended a performance, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below and by posting on social media using #AHumanBeingDiedThatNight.

Program Notes

Related Events

BAM Gathering: A Human Being Died That Night (Jun 9 & 13)
Together with a panel of community members and the audience, Bryan Doerries explores the play’s themes of power, otherness, violence, and forgiveness in apartheid-era South Africa—and their resonance closer to home. Immediately follows the 7:30 PM performance on Tue, Jun 9 and the 2:00 PM performance on Sat, Jun 13.

BAM Gathering with Pumla Godobo-Madikizela
Watch highlights from the first BAM Gathering with the author of the book A Human Being Died That Night:



Parsing Pure Evil (BAM blog)
Eric Grode examines the play's "power to enlighten and educate as well as to move and inspire audiences.”

Interview with a Torturer (The New York Times)
Follow the unexpected journey of an ugly piece of South Africa’s past to a London stage.

A Cup of Tea with... A Human Being Died That Night actor Noma Dumezweni (Hampstead Theatre)
Noma Dumezweni chats with the Hampstead Theatre about acting playing the role of Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.

With the recent announcement of de Kock's parole after just 20 years in prison, international debate rages on the ethicality of the court's ruling:
  • Can an Evil Man Change? (The New York Times)
    Poet, journalist, and author Antjie Krog explains how Mr. de Kock is a problem for South African society precisely because he presents the capacity of an evil man to change.

Look & Listen

A Human Being Died That Night on This Day Live (YouTube)
Actors Matthew Marsh and Noma Dumezweni discuss how they came to understand their characters, meeting Eugene de Kock, audience reactions to the play in South Africa, and how Desmond Tutu told them the play was continuing the efforts of Truth and Reconciliation.

“Eugene de Kock is a soldier. If he’s ordered to do killings, he’ll kill. That was his job.”

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela: Forgiveness is possible (YouTube)
A Human Being Died That Night's scribe on the possibility of forgiveness and the importance of empathy.

Now Your Turn...

How was the show? Likes? Dislikes? Surprises? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #AHumanBeingDiedThatNight.


  1. Loved the performances of both. They made the issues feel very real and universally relevant. Also loved a few subtle references to life in SA and during apartheid that may have escaped a few with sparse prior knowledge of SA or the struggle. I have a friend who was imprisioned several times during apartheid and it brought back conversations with him. Bravo to BAM for bringing this to NYC!

  2. Remarkable event and performances! It certainly does pose the question, but it does not provide a final answer -- if there ever will be one. Nevertheless, it was and remains a topic that must be explored if we are ever to find a way to modify human (animal) behavior. BAM, as always, has piqued our curiosity and challenged our thinking/views/perceptions. Continue on!!!

  3. It was very engrossing and thought-provoking. I believe singing wasn't allowed in prisons during apartheid--at least it was after that terrible time.

  4. Although I willingly bought my ticket to this play, I can't say I was looking forward to experiencing it. As it turned out, I sat riveted for 80 minutes while I struggled -- along with the characters in the play -- with issues of forgiveness in the face of extreme violence. In doing so, I was able to see a man such as de Kock as a real person for the first time -- a complex and fully human person who also happened to commit evil acts. It was an uncomfortable yet transformative experience and I am glad I chose this play as part of my subscription.

  5. We sat in the next to last row, which may have impacted our ability to hear Noma. Her voice had to be low to portray her character but we missed a lot of what she said. No problem hearing Marsh. I thought he was forceful and convincing. However, the subjects discussed during the "interview" did not flow, a fair amount seemed irrelevant to the development of de Kock's character, and the references to Pumla's personal life at the end of the play fell flat because there was no development of her personal lifepreviously. The play begins with Pumla standing as if in a lecture hall to explain the circumstances of the interview. The lecture was forced and unnecessary. The same information could have been given in the dialogue once she met with de Kock and would have been more dynamic. A last criticism is that the parting words of the characters at the end were meaningless except to suggest that everything said before then was not the truth. This kind of cynicism did not suggest itself during the play, so I assume that the playwright didn't know how to end it and thought that would be good enough. Sorry to be so critical.