by Maxwell Modell
Director Abdul Shayek’s production of Death and the Maiden is a good if unexceptional adaptation of electrifying source material. Throughout the show it is always clear that the director and actors are accomplished in their craft, however, it always felt as if something was missing.
It is an adaption of Ariel Dorfman’s Oliver award-winning play, set in the house of the Salas family during a period of new democracy in an unnamed former dictatorship. The play presents a singular intermate case study to examine the effectiveness of democracy and the justice system in providing restorative justice.
The play is performed in the round and as such provides a fly-on-the-wall type of experience with the action developing in front of you while never being directed at the audience. This seems to be designed to increase the realism of the scenario however it also created a disconnection between myself and the performance, which at time prevented me from investing in elements of the story. This was furthered by dialogue and delivery which often felt false with an increased focus on exploring the moral issues of the situation over providing a sense realise.
The play opens slowly with a first part dedicated to expositing the necessary information to contextualise the story, while keeping the character of Paulina Salas shrouded in mystery in order to ensure the twist, maintains its punch. However, once the play hits its stride it’s very intense and engaging.
This intensity was not only provided by the scenario and high stakes but also from a visceral performance from Lisa Zahra as Paulina Salas, who stole the show as a woman in immense psychological distress with years of repressed emotions surfacing and driving the conflict. While Lisa Zahra particularly stands out Vinta Morgan as Gerardo Salas and Pradeed Jey as Roberto Miranda both do a good job. Vinta Morgan has the least opportunities to really chew the scenery with a more restrained role as a character whose love and moral principles are being fundamentally challenged. Despite this, he is arguably the most important as he, like the audience, is unsure of the guilt of Roberto and is thus the audience’s access point to the drama.
The play also benefits from some excellent sound design which is quite unsettling and often hard to listen to. Throughout many quieter sections of the play, or when sets are being moved we hear extracts from Paulina’s ordeal giving us as an audience a window into her mind and a small idea of the true horror of what she experienced. This effectively highlights her motivation as well as contextualises many of her action, which may seem extreme but comparably are tame.
However, as the play draws to a close it seems to lose its footing and direction. After the build in tension and the continual raising stakes, the play didn’t seem to know how to end. While much of this was to do with the script the blocking and direction of the final scenes led to confusion more than anything.
Overall this performance compliantly adapts a very good play, however, lacks the flair which would’ve taken it to the next level. This is due to a slow start and a loss of direction and momentum towards the end. Despite this, it is still a compelling and thought-provoking experience showcasing some brilliant performances.
Death and the Maiden is showing at The Other Room Theatre Cardiff until 11th November 2017, tickets are available at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/otherroomtheatre