DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
by Ariel Dorfman.
Harold Pinter (formerly Comedy) Theatre Panton Street SW1Y 4DN To 31 December 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm mat Wed & Sat 3pm.
Runs: 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS 0844 871 7622.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 October.
Emotionally underwhelming, intellectually stimulating.
What could be more appropriate as the first play into the newly dubbed Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly the Comedy) than Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden? The Chilean writer’s political thriller, a major theatrical event of 1991, treflects Pinter’s political passion.
A harrowing if melodramatic account of a torture victim confronting her supposed torturer, it seemed to chime with the post-Pinochet times of retributive justice. Chileans who had suffered under the military dictatorship could once again return home.
In that atmosphere of reconciliation through truth (how many times have we heard that since?) Death and the Maiden was born and created in London at the Royal Court with Juliet Stevenson in a shatteringly emotional account of victim turned perpetrator.
Twenty years on, despite a sensitive production from Royal Court director Jeremy Herrin and two ably impassioned performances from Tom Goodman-Hill and Anthony Calf, Thandie Newton’s avenging angel inevitably strikes less momentous chords.
Newton, British born but now an American superstar fails to plumb the depths, but in her London stage debut provides a Condoleeza Rice version of ice cool, calculating beauty: a performance for the 21st century.
Despite this somewhat underwhelming core – and curiously, Kristin Scott Thomas had a similar problem in the last play in this theatre, in Pinter’s Betrayal, another female centred three-hander – Dorfman’s legalistic teaser still carries intellectual if not emotional force.
At a time when post-revolutionary Libyans are having to face precisely the dilemma Dorfman so skilfully portrays, the play once again carries timely resonance: is individual retribution ever a solution?
Dorfman’s play circles around a plea for forgiveness as a necessary means of national as well as personal healing within a classic, Greek structure. One room, one 24 hour time scale, three characters battling it out on a moral plane.
It makes for an absorbing if not quite convincing enough tussle between Goodman Hill’s dedicated young prosecutor, Calf’s clubbable, devious doctor and Newton’s Paulina, kidnapped, tortured and raped 15 years earlier and haunted by the music played by the doctor `to alleviate’ the suffering of the torture victims: Schubert’s string quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’.
Worth catching if not seen first time around.
Pauline Salas: Thandie Newton.
Gerardo Escobar: Tom Goodman-Hill.
Roberto Miranda: Anthony Calf.
Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Designer/Costume: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Voice coach: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
First performance of this production at the Harold PInter Theatre London 13 October 2011.