Death and the Maiden: A study in vengeance

As a result of another Metro offer (I do love a deal!), I was off to a matinee at the theatre this week to see Death and the Maiden. Not the opera – although there is a reference to the music of Schubert, thus the name. This is the play written by Ariel Dorfman in 1990. The theme is judgement – human rights butting up against vengeance to challenge what we think is fair and just.


Paulina Salas is a former political prisoner who has been the victim of torture and rape. The play is set 15 years later when she and her human rights lawyer husband Gerardo are living a quiet life by the sea. On the particular night of the play, Gerardo has a flat tyre on the way home and is helped by a passing stranger who then visits their home later that evening. Paulina becomes convinced that he is the sadistic Dr Miranda, the instrument of her rape and torture all those years ago.

The play centres around Paulina’s absolute conviction, and her desire for vengeance contrasts starkly with her husband’s belief in ‘the human rights process’ he has been fighting for all his life. In the midst of all of this, we are left to wonder about Dr Miranda – is he or isn’t he?

This is Thandie Newton‘s West End debut and she grips the audience with her impassioned portrayal of the slightly crazed Paulina (and is more than ably supported by Anthony Calf as Dr Miranda and Tom Goodman-Hill as her husband Gerardo). The play raises challenging issues throughout: how certain can we ever be of innocence/guilt and the single-mindedness of a victim’s belief in the release revenge will bring as well as the broader themes of penitence, forgiveness and above all, justice – what is it and how far is too far to achieve it.

This is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of theatre that poses more questions than it answers in the end.

I think you should go.


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