Theatre Review: Death And The Maiden

Moore Books SA brings Adelaide audiences the rarely seen political and psychological thriller. ‘Death and the Maiden’, under the intelligent direction of Kristin Telfer.

Presented by Moore Books SA and Holden Street Theatres
Reviewed 27 October 2016

Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman’s masterpiece Death and the Maiden has had very few productions in Adelaide. In fact, I can personally only remember one, and that was about 20 years ago. So it is wonderful to see Moore Books give space to this brilliant and gut-wrenching work.

A three-hander, the play takes us through an evening when Gerardo Escobar, newly appointed to the Reconciliation Commission brings a stranger home. His wife, Paulina, recognizes the voice of the doctor who supervised her torture fifteen years earlier, under the military regime, and thus begins a night of psycho-political negotiation.

Nick Buckland is outstanding as Doctor Roberto Miranda. Dorfman, through this character, gives voice to the concept that totalitarian regimes brutalize those who have to enforce them, as much as those it seeks to oppress. Buckland is able to express Miranda’s fear and rage and present us with a believable voice for an unsympathetic archetype.

Thorin Cupit and Cheryl Douglas as Gerardo and Paulina respectively, are both competent, and play well off each other. However, they both seem to still be reading lines from a page, and as of opening night, had not really settled into their characters. I’m sure they will find more authenticity as the season progresses. They also both need to watch their diction, as many lines delivered in either stage whispers or shouts, were lost to the acoustics of the venue.

Director Kristin Telfer has pulled together a respectable production. She has avoided the temptation to over-block or fill the dialogue with too much stage business. This intelligent director allowed her actors to sit and talk, as Dorfman intended them to do. Many a less competent director would have been afraid to do this.

Sound, lighting and set design all under-scored the production nicely, except for the sudden stops to the sound, which broke the emotion. The final scene particularly needed a crescendo of Schubert (the eponymous Death and the Maiden), to allow the music, the feeling and the horror, to wash over us.

This play is about Chile. It is about dictatorship, torture and oppression. But most of all it is about humanity: what it is, who has and how we cling to it. It is a play which will always be relevant, because it is firmly grounded in the psychological that becomes the political.

If you want theatre that moves you, engages you, makes you think and makes you feel, then rush down to Holden Street Theatres for this gem.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Venue: The Arch, Holden Street Theatres
Season: 28, 29 October and 3,4,5 November 8 pm
Tickets: $20 – $26
Bookings: Holden Street Theatres website


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