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Review: Death and the Maiden

Harold Pinter Theatre

    The first offering at the newly named Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly The Comedy) is a modern classic. No play more eloquently reveals the legacy of torture than Ariel Dorfman's 1990 thriller, the writer's one great play.

    Inspired by events in Dorfman's country, Chile, the heroine, played here by movie star Thandie Newton, is Paulina who 15 years previously was tortured under the sadistic supervision of a doctor (Anthony Calf), a temporary house guest of Paulina's lawyer husband Gerardo (Tom Goodman-Hill). Gerardo is heading an investigation into the previous regime's crimes, an appointment that is put at risk when Paulina gives the doctor some of his own medicine.

    Newton is fragile and fierce, but in her theatrical debut generates only a fraction of the heartrending emotion achieved by Juliet Stevenson in 1990.

    Jeremy Herrin's slick production lacks a sense of place. With the play revived in an era where torture has been used not just by dictatorships but by Western democracies too, widening the geographical reach may have been part of the thinking. If so, the play needs no such help to make its point. Still, it is a tense and thought-provoking evening.

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