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A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Death and The Maiden

Tom Goodman-Hill (Gerardo) and Anthony Calf (Doctor Roberto Miranda) in Death and the Maiden
Photo by Ellie Kurttz


by Ariel Dorfman


Director: Jeremy Herrin


Set & Costume Design: Peter McKintosh


Lighting: Neil Austin


Music: Stephen Warbeck


Sound: Fergus O’ Hare


Harold Pinter Theatre


25 Oct 2011- 21 Jan 2012

Death and The Maiden is a sombre yet tender string quartet by Schubert; it is also the music that Paulina Salas (Thandie Newton) heard when she was raped and tortured.  Its’ erratic changes in mood and tempo reflect her psychological anxieties over being tortured on behalf of her husband, Gerardo Escobar (Tom Goodman-Hill), the youngest member of a investigative commission established to bring war criminals to justice. When a man named Dr Miranda (Anthony Calf) turns up in the middle of the night at their beach house, Escobar promptly invites him to stay, for this is the same man who helped him earlier that evening on the motorway with his flat tyre. However, Paulina eavesdrops on their conversation and recognizes the man’s voice as the Doctor who tortured and raped her. That night she binds and gags him at gun point and takes him hostage to put him on trial for the crimes she believes he has committed against her. The only thing is, Dr Miranda vehemently denies her accusations and her husband wants her to let him go, but how can Dr Miranda explain the tape of Death and The Maiden, she findsin his car?

This is Thandie Newton’s West End debut, and as a result the play has garnered a lot of attention for her performance, as opposed to its topical subject matter. Newton is good as Salas, effectively portraying her erratic temperament and unpredictability with fluidity and ease, but this is a powerfully traumatic role to play, and at times it felt that there was a distance between Newton’s performance and the depth of Salas’s psychological and emotional torment. Newton certainly knows how to hold the stage and dominate the action with great poise and excellent diction - it just felt as though such an extreme situation would warrant a greater level of involvement.

Tom Goodman-Hill plays her husband, Gerardo Escobar. Goodman-Hill portrays a man torn between doing what he thinks is right for his country and what is right for his wife. Nerve racked and filled with anxiety, you question how much his worries are for his wife’s health and how much are born out of fear of losing his job. Goodman-Hill is highly convincing as a man who fiercely believes in Dr Miranda’s right to a fair trial. However when evidence comes to light that starts to insinuate his guilt, he adopts the same Old Testament “eye for an eye” punishment that his wife is eager to deliver. Goodman-Hill portrays a highly complex character who has to believe in the public system of justice, because it is what he represents and it is all he has to cling to. He is the flawed voice of democracy, the voice of logic in the face of emotion, yet, as he stands by, he condones her actions by not preventing them.

Anthony Calf as Dr Miranda is perfect in evoking our uncertainty of his guilt. He appears at the same time suspicious and sympathetic, and anyone who can spend the best part of an hour bound and gagged to a chair deserves a special commendation. Whether you believe he did it or didn’t, the real question Dorfman poses, is ultimately who should have the power to judge the guilt of another person, the victim, or an impartial system. The play raises serious questions over the nature of evidence which is beyond reasonable doubt.

In Herrin’s production no expense has been spared bringing to life their home, with McKintosh’s simple yet stylish wooden floors and wall hangings, the perfect, serene setting to contrast with such unsettling events. The domestic happiness of their home is disturbed by their own actions and transformed from a dining room into a torture chamber. Yet Dorfman, with a nod to Pinter, introduces vital pinches of absurdity to the scenario, as we look on, not knowing whether to laugh or be shocked. Neil Austin’s lighting is incredibly subtle and central to the moods of the play; he excels in creating the times of day, from the cold atmosphere of dawn light to the flash of car headlights crossing the room, he creates some of the most atmospheric and natural lighting designs I have witnessed. The rise and fall of the sea was highly effective and Stephen Warbeck deserves praise for adding the rushing sound of the tide to create an imprisoning effect to the action.

Dorfman’s Death and The Maiden is an enigmatic meditation on the consequences of torture, the nature of evidence and the rights of victim to issue judgment and punishment. What makes Dorfman’s play so irresistible is that we are never certain of Dr Miranda’s guilt. We are divided - on the one hand supporting the punishment Salas inflicts on him for the atrocities he has committed against her, and on the other, not wanting an innocent man to be punished for a crime he didn’t commit.

This is a must see play with an excellent cast and an incredibly high technical standard dedicated to building the tension in this captivating performance. Perhaps we can never be totally sure of someone’s guilt, after all, in Dorfman’s own words,   “People can die from an excessive dose of truth.”

Harold Pinter Theatre
Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN

Box Office:  0844 871 7622
Tickets £10 - £49.50

Booking to: 21 January 2012
Evenings: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday & Saturday at 3pm

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