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NODA Review – Death and the Maiden

Ewhurst Players ‚ÄúDeath and the Maiden”

Ewhurst Village Hall – 16th November, 2017

Ewhurst Players have chosen a three hander of two men and one woman to carry the flame for their main autumn production. In choosing this gripping if somewhat uncomfortable-to-watch play, they have for me, as a NODA rep. at least, broken new ground using merely three players.

Right from the start, seeing Paulina hide out of sight as her husband Gerardo welcomed his (car breakdown) rescuer Dr. Roberto Miranda in for a late night drink, the obvious tension was amply displayed. Izzy McLean as Paulina Salas was all angst, suspicion and wanting vengeance. Her body language perfectly captured the turmoil of her character and as the plot unfolded and she herself became dangerous to both her “tormentor” and indeed her husband, the tension rose to near boiling point.

Simon Fraser, as the initially bewildered Gerardo Escobar, who then became very angry with Paulina and enraged that she would blithely take justice into her own hands, had a wonderful role to play and did so with great skill. His relationship with Paulina was laid bare when his long ago affair with another woman was revealed. It was clear that Paulina still had never got over it or really forgiven Gerardo.

Paulina, in painfully real style, strove to torment Dr. Roberto Miranda, her former tormentor who captured and raped her many years ago. Izzy’s playing was that of a clearly gifted actor. When Dr Miranda appeared, bound and gagged, sitting helplessly in a chair, having been knocked unconscious by Paulina in the night, it was difficult to fully know how we in the audience felt, as the author Ariel Dorfman clearly intended. This deeply painful play certainly succeeded on many levels in examining our own ethics, emotions and views on several areas of life and this was in fact the true richness and depth of this multi layered play.

Ben Aveyard, as the suffering Dr. Miranda, portrayed both his physical and emotional pain, anger, bewilderment and guilt – if indeed he even was guilty? – in beautifully nuanced manner. Sitting in his underwear with bare feet and a flimsy T-shirt, it was difficult not to sympathise with his predicament, whether guilty or not.

The gun was prominently used, a key prop. obviously, but I thought it rather odd how Gerardo clearly had the chance to seize it from his wife, but did not. I could not decide whether or not this hesitance was intended by the plot, or indeed the director. Presumably others in the audience would have thought the same.

I have to say the whole idea of a confession, forced by threat, I found a tad unconvincing, even though this was a key part of the plot. The idea of Paulina inserting some inconsistencies with which to trip up the Doctor – as she admitted not being one hundred percent sure he was in fact the rapist – seems to my mind a writer’s device which, though superbly well portrayed by all three players, jarred somewhat for my liking. On the other hand, one could say that the lack of total certainty on Paulina’s past, prior to the confession, pointed towards a degree of mental frailty, beyond which one might expect and leaving one to draw conclusions about the truth or otherwise of her own past life. I have tried to look at it both ways, which is probably exactly what was intended by the author and skilfully interpreted by the excellent director George Yates, assisted by Victoria Helstrip.

All in all, I found myself unsure as to Roberto’s guilt, as doubtless others have, over the years. Did he or didn’t he? We will never know and the huge mirror, designed for the audience members to look into their own reflection and hearts provided a powerful but somewhat frustrating penultimate scene.

At the final scene at the concert when the play’s title “Death and the Maiden” by Schubert was played, Paulina and Roberto – or was it merely his image? – stared at each other as the lights faded. An enigmatic conclusion to a thought-provoking play.

A word of praise for the effective set of a wooden cabin set in an unnamed South American country. Oars, a lifebuoy and predominance of wicker furniture perfectly set the remote setting. Good sound effects by Bill Pilcher for the truck arriving and leaving among others made a realistic impression. Even better lighting by Carl Osborne added much to the overall effect. Anne Lyth did sterling work on wardrobe and George Yates, who together with Chris Dews designed the atmospheric set, deserves a distinction for creating this realistic cabin.

Despite my comments about the confession, I found this a top class play of professional standard by all three players and director. Challenging productions and Ewhurst Players clearly go together like fish and chips. Tasty and wholesome!

Jon Fox

NODA District 19