Death and the Maiden is one of those great plays that you can chew over long afterwards. It's ambiguous and open to interpretation and I really like that. But I'm not sure this has the great performances it deserves, just yet.
It's still in preview - I saw the second performance - and Thandie Newton makes her West End debut as Paulina who is scarred by what happened to her when she was a political prisoner.
Her husband Gerardo (Tom Goodman-Hill) is a lawyer who has just been appointed to work on a committee for the new President to look into the deaths of political prisoners at the hands of the previous dictatorship. He gets a flat tyre on his way home and is assisted by Dr Miranda (Anthony Calf).
When Dr Miranda returns to the house later Paulina, despite having never seen his face before, recognises his voice and smell as the man who raped her in prison, his signature being to play Schubert's Death and the Maiden in the background. She decides to put him on trial to make him confess. Gerardo acts as defence lawyer but isn't convinced that Paulina has got the right man and helps Miranda to 'confess' in order to save his life.
It should be a very intense and moving play. And it is at times but the cast just haven't quite nailed it yet. They are very good at the angry, anxious, shouty bits and Newton does a good line in frightened at the beginning but there is a element of warmth and passion that is lacking.
Basically I don't think Newton's performance is quite as complex as the character demands at this stage and that is pivotal in gelling the play.
I couldn't help thinking as I walked out of the theatre how much I'd like to see the play again but with a different cast. I can imagine Juliet Stevenson who was in the original production at the Royal Court being absolutely superb. That's probably a little mean and I'd definitely be curious to see it again in a few weeks when it's had time to bed in. I'm going to give it three stars for performance and four stars for the play.
Death and the Maiden is on at the Harold Pinter Theatre (Comedy Theatre as was) until 21 January and you can get day seats for £20 which are on the front row.
A note on the seating: The stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre for this production is quite high so seats close to the front do have their restrictions although if you are sitting towards the middle of the row you'll see pretty much everything of importance. Seats on the end of the row particularly on the left as you are facing the stage have the view restricted by the set at times. You don't miss too much but I wouldn't want to have paid full whack.
Yesterday was Mr W's birthday and in celebration there is a direct link (and a piccie to prove it). Tom Goodman-Hill is in Richard II with Mr W and took this picture on set.