Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie reviews Death and the Maiden at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, (19 and 20 October)
It was with ardent excitement that the audience of the opening night of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden swept into the Byre Theatre; this production had been a long time coming. Vivien Bernfeld’s director’s note simply read: ‘Finally.’ However, for such an eagerly anticipated performance, it failed to live up to the hype.
Death and the Maiden looks at Paulina, a former political prisoner, who was raped and tortured by captors whose faces she never saw. There was one man in particular – a Doctor – who played Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ whilst raping his victims, which Paulina found particularly mentally scarring. The plot sees a man who Paulina believes to be the doctor enter the home of her and her husband Gerardo, after assisting Gerardo with a flat tyre. Paulina puts Doctor Miranda on trial, yet the play never answers the question of whether he really was the rapist, or his confession was an act to save his own life. Similarly, we are unsure if Paulina kills Doctor Miranda in the play’s final scene.
One of the biggest problems with the play was that Paulina’s main reason for believing Doctor Miranda to be the doctor who raped her was that she recognised his voice, thus ascribing the qualities of generality and ubiquitousness to his voice. However, Ollie Carr’s accent as Doctor Miranda was the only English accent, undermining one of the key areas for debate in the play. This was indicative of a general neglect of detail throughout; Paulina’s character talks of a rug which doesn’t exist, and neither she nor her husband are wearing wedding rings.
However, despite the lack of detail in certain areas, all three performances – from Adelaide Waldrop, Will Moore and Ollie Carr – conveyed some of the key aspects of their respective characters. Waldrop’s acting felt a little under-directed, and there were certain essential vulnerable nuances missing in her performance. However, the moment when she realises who Doctor Miranda is, was a stunning dawning realisation, with just the right amount of internalisation. Moore’s accent was a little inconsistent and he seemed to lack genuine authority at essential moments, but he gave a strong performance throughout, and he particularly excelled in the scene in which he was alone with Doctor Miranda. The chemistry between the husband and wife wasn’t as strong as it could have been; nevertheless a scene which took place outside on a balcony provided an intense exploration of their marriage and was immensely watchable.
I don’t agree with the opinions of the majority of the audience members I spoke to about the play in that it would have benefitted from a smaller venue; I merely think that the production just didn’t have enough tension to fill the space. I was sat on the front row, and there were still times I didn’t feel wholly included. The first act seemed to build to a certain tension right before the interval, but the pace of the second act was lacking, and some potentially explosive moments only simmered. Overall there was some solid acting, but the essential feeling of being absorbed in a thriller was missing.
Image credit – Will Moore