Death and the Maiden, Harold Pinter Theatre, London
What better work to inaugurate the newly named Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly the Comedy) than Death and the Maiden? Pinter was a friend of Ariel Dorfman, and, influentially, championed this 1990 piece. With its focus on the after-effects of political torture and the hideously vexed issue ofhow you achieve justice in a society emerging from violent dictatorship, the play’s revival now feels particularly timely in the light of post- Gaddafi Libya.
So it’s dismaying to report that Jeremy Herrin’s miscast production, starring Thandie Newton, fails to rise to the doubly auspicious occasion.
Set in an unnamed South American state (akin to the author’s native Chile after the fall of Pinochet), the play engineers a sensational scenario. Chance brings Paulina Salas face to face with the man she believes repeatedly raped and tortured her 15 years previously. She was blindfolded throughout her ordeals, so she “recognises” him from the sound of his voice. Now, bound and gagged, this doctor is at her gun-wielding mercy. To the horror of her husband, a human rights lawyer who has just been appointed to a truth and reconciliation committee, she is intent on extracting a confession at any price.
Making her stage debut as Paulina, Thandie Newton turns in a proficient, but underpowered and vocally strained performance, utterly lacking in the unnerving, incandescent intensity brought to the role by Juliet Stevenson in the Royal Court premiere 20 years ago. You should at once feel wrenched by the character and want to recoil from her. If she’s in the grip of a dangerous delusion, this is itself is a mark of the psychological damage she suffered through torture. Shemay risk jeopardising the transition todemocracy by her lust for private, extra-judicial vengeance, and, yet, should cases such as hers (that didnotendinmurder) submit to the silence of official oblivion?
But instead of arousing ambivalenceby seeming to tumble from the same turbulent source, the exultant vindictiveness and tearful vulnerability in Newton’s portrayal feel like alternating poses between which she shifts with mechanical care. As the lawyer husband, Tom Goodman-Hill isbetter at creating the requisite sense of equivocality. You can sometimes catch a cold glint of irked personal ambition in his distraught advocacy of pragmatic idealism. And the affronted, apparent decency of Anthony Calf as the accused keeps you guessing throughout. But, neither sufficientlytense nor emotionally disorienting, this is not the first-rate revival the occasion deserved.
To 21 January (0844 871 7627)
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
- 1 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Woolwich murder: They killed, then they performed - these men should be starved of our attention
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.