Death and the Maiden

Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden is one of my all time favourite plays; it is a beautifully written text, teeming with monologues many actors would dream to get their hands on. Yet Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group (in their 51st year at the Fringe) take this exciting and gripping play, and manage to turn it into one of the most cringe-worthy productions I have ever seen.

Running at 1 hour 45 minutes, this is a long production for the Fringe, and one that is certainly not worth your time.

Death and the Maiden is set in Chile in 1990, after Pinochet’s rule has ended. Paulina (Rhiannon King) is a former political prisoner, now married to Gerado (Gregor Haddow). Gerardo brings a kindly stranger into their home, Doctor Roberto Miranda (Chris Pearson), who Paulina is convinced was her torturer. As the night unfolds, Paulina takes Roberto prisoner, threatening his life until he confesses to her torture. It is an incredible script, a powerful three-hander, with an interesting socio-political context. However, I would urge you to read the script, rather than see this production.

The limitations of the fringe force groups to be imaginative, and whilst at times ideas do not quite live up to expectations, it makes for interesting theatre. Claire Wood (director) instead opts for total naturalism, meaning that the constant breaks in immersion make the production seem amateur and underprepared. The sound effects are unnecessary and often laughable, while the impact of the meticulously detailed set and various lighting states are shattered when coupled with stock-image projection (meant to be a window), bizarre staging, and a pantomimic style of performing.

The acting was by far the worst aspect of the production, and I found myself squirming whenever the Rhiannon King (Paulina) spoke. King has a gift of a part, yet managed to reduce Paulina from a three dimensional character to a gibbering wreck, bordering on a comic portrayal. I found her key monologue difficult to listen to as King littered the speech with awkward pauses and painful delivery. Haddow and Pearson are marginally more watchable, but none of them have the depth to be able to do these characters justice.

The acting, coupled with dire scene changes (including a stage-hand coming on to plug in a camera to a projection, giving the whole thing a feel of school assembly) makes for a truly terrible show, and I was thoroughly disappointed. Running at 1 hour 45 minutes, this is a long production for the Fringe, and one that is certainly not worth your time.

Reviews by Marthe de Ferrer

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Performances

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The Blurb

'Forgive, yes. Forget, no. But forgive so we can start again.' Gerardo, a leading light in the new government, introduces his wife to a man who gave him a lift home when his car broke down late at night. Paulina claims she recognises the voice of the man who held her captive under the old regime. Gerardo tries to persuade his wife to forgive and forget in the name of her health and his political advancement. But Paulina wants revenge. Truth, memories and the thirst for justice collide in Ariel Dorfman’s classic play.

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