Theatre Review: Death and the Maiden at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Thandie Newton seeks her revenge in this hard-hitting human rights drama

The first play to be staged in the newly rebranded Harold Pinter Theatre is ironically not one of the playwright’s one works.

But at the very least Ariel Dorfman’s 1990 political drama Death and the Maiden is a hard-hitting thesis on human rights - and a worthy echo of Pinter’s themes.

Set in a nameless country during a nameless period in history after the disposition of a nameless dictator, we are introduced to a couple trying to “get used to democracy”.

If all this ambiguity seems a little lazy at the outset, by the time the action find its feet this uncertainty actually plays to the story’s advantage.

Thandie Newton plays torture victim Paulina Salas whose husband Gerardo Escobar (Tom Goodman-Hill) invites Dr Roberto Miranda (Anthony Calf) - a seemingly good Samaritan who helped him fix his car - into their home.

But she becomes convinced this stranger is her former captor and armed with a gun sets about convincing her dubious husband and coercing a confession out of the terrified Dr Miranda.

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Suspicion, anger, revenge and an undercurrent of misogyny drive this fraught play forward and as the lines begin to blur between good and evil - or rather the accused and the accuser - so too do our allegiances.

Newton beautifully portrays the fragility of Paulina Salas, a woman burdened by the memories of her abuse, while Goodman-Hill’s frustrated confusion and Calf’s wide-eyed fear all add to a gripping performance.

The guilty party is never unveiled, but by the time the curtain falls it is clear that the answer is not nearly as important as the mere fact that the question was asked in the first place.

* Death and the Maiden is showing at the Harold Pinter Theatre, in Panton Street, SW1Y, until January 12.