Thandie Newton makes her West End stage debut as a dead woman walking in the first London revival of Ariel Dorfman’s devastating story of revenge, Death And The Maiden.
Set in the home of human rights lawyer Gerardo Escobar (Tom Goodman-Hill) and his wife Paulina (Newton), the play centres on their struggle to find their feet in a country settling into democracy after suffering at the hands of a repressive dictatorship.
When Gerardo suffers a flat tyre on his way home, Doctor Roberto Miranda (Anthony Calf) stops to help him and later calls into the Escobars’ home to offer further assistance. But when Paulina thinks she recognises the doctor’s voice as that of a state agent who tortured and raped her 15 years previously, she decides to take justice into her own hands.
Jeremy Herrin’s direction creates a cinematic feel to the haunting production, as if you could be watching Newton in a Hollywood thriller, helped further by Peter McKintosh’s dramatic set. With roaring waves in the background and silences punctuated by the sound of crickets, the remoteness of the house gives it all a decidedly horror film edge.
Newton looks fittingly fragile on stage, clutching a gun far too big for her shaking hands, flitting from false bravado to sobbing wreck. Playing a woman still gagged by atrocities that have placed her life in a state of perpetual horror is a huge task, but supported by the impressive Goodman-Hill as her distraught and shocked husband, she helps deliver the horrific story with a powerful punch.
Whether Roberto is indeed the man who did unspeakable things – not always left unsaid in Dorfman’s unflinchingly graphic script – is never made clear. This is just one of many questions left unanswered by the play. Should we have the right to create our own trials, our own justice? Or does having a torturer’s blood on your hands just make you one of them. It’s sad that 21 years on from the play’s debut, these questions are still just as relevant today.