Theatre Review - 'Death & The Maiden'

Posted on: 11 November 2011 by Alexander Hay

The nightmare of the past comes back to haunt the present in Ariel Dorfman’s harrowing play Death and the Maiden, first staged 21 years ago and now revived in a taut new production directed by Jeremy Herrin, at the Harold Pinter Theatre W1

The maiden takes aim (but has she found the right target?)Set in an unnamed country shortly after the restoration of democracy following the dark years of a Pinochet-style regime, the story focuses on Paulina Salas, a woman who was captured under a brutal regime and viciously assaulted by her captor, under the direction of a doctor whose face she never saw.

When, years later her husband human rights lawyer husband gets a flat tyre and is assisted home by a stranger, Paulina is convinced he was her tormentor and must now be held to account. Desperate to inflict some of the horror and pain she suffered at his hands, she takes him captive and will do whatever it takes to get him to confess to his crimes. But is she right, or has she simply been destroyed by her experience?

This play still packs a punch and seems topical, given how torture certainly hasn’t gone away since the piece was first performed. Dorfman asks us to ponder the effects of persecution and the nature of legal process, while the production unwinds with the fascination of a good thriller.

Thandie Newton in her West End debut, gives a competent rather than commanding performance as Paulina. She is feline and coolly glamorous and although she convinces in the role, she lacks a certain emotional rawness and depth. Tom Goodman–Hill manages to convey the anguish of a man torn between a love for his wife and the desire for the due process of law, though Anthony Calf as the doctor who insists he has no memory of Paulina, doesn’t appear sufficiently sinister.

In all then a flawed production but one which nevertheless implants itself on the memory.

Plays until January 21

Box office: 0844 871 7622

Press: The Corner Shop 0207 494 3665

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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