Death and the Maiden

Ariel Dorfman
King's Head
(2004)

Angelica Torn
Leigh Lawson
Rupert Wickham

Ariel Dorfman is one of our greatest living authors and playwrights. His experiences under Pinochet's totalitarian regime in Chile have produced much fine work, of which Death and the Maiden is the most famous.

The actors, in any new production of the play, have a hard act to follow as memorable performances from Juliet Stevenson and Bill Paterson on stage and Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley on film keep intruding.

It is a great compliment to the trio at the King's Head, that they bear comparison with such great names.

Angelica Torn, recently seen here as Sylvia Plath, makes a moving Paulina. She is an Evita-lookalike victim of unspeakable torture and still seeks catharsis fifteen years later. From her first appearance, she creates an appropriate sense of unease that never dissipates.

Rupert Wickham combines the coolness of a lawyer, just appointed to a toothless Government commission to investigate injustice, with the passion of a husband who loves and sympathises with his wife. He also has a guilty past to pay for.

Not to be outdone, Leigh Lawson is tremendous as the terrified, quivering Dr Miranda, exuding a fear that you can almost smell. Whether he is an innocent victim or a sadistic torturer eventually ceases to matter.

We see that he and Paulina represent the two poles of their damaged country, riven by injustice for seventeen long years, as much as themselves. The confession that she demands for herself is also desperately needed by a country trying to expiate its own sins.

There is also an element of this relationship fuelled by hatred that can come close to love.

Death and the Maiden is a wonderful play with its shocking drama and mordant humour. Under the taut direction of Paul Alexander, with Norman Coates' set and Dan Crawford's effective lighting to assist, this version grips throughout. It also shows the air conditioned King's Head at its best. This venue is made for the really atmospheric three-hander.

A great night out!

Reviewer: Philip Fisher