Death and the Maiden

3 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
Thandie Newton (Paulina) and Anthony Calf (Doctor Roberto Miranda) in Death and the Maiden. Photo by Ellie Kurttz (3).jpg
© Ellie Kurttz Thandie Newton (Paulina) and Anthony Calf (Doctor Roberto Miranda)

The Comedy Theatre’s rep hasn’t really changed with its name. Yes, ‘Death and the Maiden’ writer Ariel Dorfman is an apt inaugural choice: Dorfman wrote his doctorate on Pinter before the British writer championed the Chilean’s work. But this small-cast revival with its big-star name Thandie Newton (following Keira Knightley’s footsteps on these boards) looks bland and familiar in its swish little West End niche.

Dorfman’s drama electrified Royal Court audiences when it premiered there in 1990, with its tense debates about justice and torture, stretched to breaking point in a scenario in which the wife of a prominent lawyer, imprisons her husband’s house-guest because she thinks he tortured and raped her under their country’s old regime.

There are plenty of thrills in Jeremy Herrin’s glossy production, which is defined by an elegant but lightweight performance from Newton as the gun-toting Paulina. Newton makes a graceful avenging angel in Armani – though you won’t believe your eyes when this immaculate twiglet coshes her victim on the head and heaves his zonked-out bulk onto the kitchen chair to which he is tied for most of the evening.

But there’s not enough depth, damage, or vocal range under the gloss: Newton makes Dorfman’s dark and relevant moral thriller look like James Bond for liberals.

Herrin’s production is slick and gripping and Tom Goodman-Hill is increasingly subtle and anguished as Paulina’s husband. Newton and co deliver the arguments with passionate clarity and the recent death of Gaddafi adds an edge to the perennial question of whether or not we should kill killers or torture torturers.

But there’s something imbalanced in the axis of evil in this three-handed production: Newton doesn’t plumb the depths but neither does Anthony Calf, as the man who she believes was once her Schubert-loving interrogator. Dorfman’s play leaves the question of his guilt just about open. But his relatively cuddly performance enlarges the moral vacuum in this production, where bad things happen and worse things have happened, but no-one seems to be responsible for them.


Average User Rating

4.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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A tense excellent drama well acted by everyone. Thandie's voice took a little time to warm up however that was barely noticeable. Beautiful staging.

I've only seen Thandie Newton in MI2, and she wasn't speaking very much, so had little doubts. But from the first moment, she has exceeded my expectation. I was so drawn into her character that I cried for her and I was so angry and hoped that the doctor gets the best punishment during the play. I look forward to more of her play.

This premier for the Harold Pinter theatre was superb! Thandie Newton delivered a superb performance, slowly building in strength, depth and substance with an electric ending ... a story of justice and redemption. Highy recommended

A taut production - never having seen this play before and knowing very little about it I was totally swept up in the action. Newton has the excruciating responsibility of opening the performance alone on stage, but quickly slips into a conversational tango with her husband, Geraldo. This becomes a trio with the introduction of Dr Miranda. There are no supporting roles in this production - all the actors are equally strong and the direction assures that the focus from scene to scene is shared equally, through presence or absence. Stunning set, lighting and sound combine cohesively to sustain the story. Schubet's Quartet, in giving its name to this work, implies a fourth character, who I image to be all the Disappeared - from Argentina, Ireland, the Middle East or anywhere brutal regimes brutalize their people.

A fantastic performance by all three cast members. I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of the play. Great set too. And with some fantastic theatre ticket deals around at the moment I'd say don't miss out.