The short sharp shock of Omphile Molusi's new play from the Market Theatre of Johannesburg is that nothing is much better about living in South Africa if your skin's black.

The legacy of the pass book culture in the townships, the chaos and violence, the family rifts and the political corruption are all defining a new era of uncertainty, even as President Mandela prepares to depart the country he's done so much to improve in so many ways.

Mandela's great impact, apart from his heroism and courage, lies in is his common humanity; there's little sign of that in this rough, tough little epic inspired by the author's family history.

Molusi himself, an extraordinarily gifted and powerful young actor, plays the protagonist, Gregory, pinning us to our seats as he darts between the generations of apartheid, post-apartheid and messy present. He joins the resistance as a cadre, goes to prison, meets up with his girlfriend and tracks down his antagonist, the policeman Crocodile.

All other roles are played by the astonishingly versatile Lillian Tshabalala – mother, girlfriend, white policeman – and Sello Motloung, unrecognisable from scene to scene as various hate figures, including Crocodile.

Molusi's production (co-directed with Rick Boynton) is set on a simple township backyard setting of canvas sheets and washing lines, cleverly deployed for low tech shadow play effects and redolent of hardship and impermanence and also of a certain kind of improvised "poor theatre" language.

The world of activism, protest and direct action is stunningly well conveyed, and there are some jaw-dropping scenes of decision-making when a gun is pointed at your head and a question asked: you or your lover, you or your brother?

Cadre continues at the Traverse until 25 August