Truth and Reconciliation concentrates a powerful emotional experience into just over an hour.
It interweaves scenes from South Africa in 1998, Rwanda in 2005, Zimbabwe in 2007, Bosnia in 1996 and Northern Ireland in 1999.
The scenes move from one to another and often back again by rearranging the hard wooden chairs on the oval floor around which the audience sit—on more hard wooden chairs.
Chalked on the black walls are dates and locations, illuminated in turn.
They speak with repetition and silences, but sometimes with passionate eloquence.
Small details build up the tension. The perils of telling the truth are exposed.
A Zimbabwean woman who felt compelled to speak out is forced to leave her home.
A Serbian ex-soldier, confronting the pregnant Bosnian woman he raped, begs his friend to take the blame.
He has a wife, children and a job. His friend, he says, has nothing to lose.
People seeking answers are treated with contempt by authority.
A South African family are seeking the truth about the daughter they last saw 22 years before.
The family is left waiting because “they” can’t be bothered to turn up.
This is an irresistible reminder of Mark Duggan’s friends and relatives left waiting for answers by the Tottenham police after he was shot in August.
A Zimbabwean husband confronts an elegant woman.
She is bent on humiliating him, and refuses to answer questions about his wife.
But when he says to her, “I am her husband. She is…”, the woman chillingly responds, “Was. Fact.”
The acting from the 22-strong cast is superb.
The women are especially strong,like the feisty Belfast woman who refuses reconciliation, asserting her dignity in the face of her accusers.
Also unforgettable is the Hutu torturer confronting his dead Tutsi victim.
He pleads for empathy because he cannot sleep or eat. “Good,” says his victim.
This play offers neither answers nor hope.
It shows the complexity of truth and the enormous barriers there are to reconciliation.
We too are left with unanswered questions, perhaps because without justice there can be no peace.
Truth and Reconciliation
By Debbie Tucker Green
Royal Court Theatre, London, until 24 September. Bussey Building, Rye Lane, Peckham, London,
29 September to 15 October