REVIEW: Death and the Maiden at Harrogate Theatre Studio

James Willstrop, Clare Evans-Argent and Stuart Newsome in Death and the Maiden
James Willstrop, Clare Evans-Argent and Stuart Newsome in Death and the Maiden

This compelling production by the Harrogate Dramatic Society of Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, first performed in 1991, begins and ends with Schubert’s string quartet of the same name.

The audience discovers it has been used as a backdrop to the torture and rape of former medical student Paulina Salas.

Fifteen years previously, under a South American dictatorship, she was arrested for political activity and tortured. Never able to see the face of the doctor who was her tormentor, she has retained the memory of his voice, physical characteristics, his fondness for Schubert and his references to Nietzsche.

Convinced that the ‘good Samaritan’ who gives her human rights lawyer husband Gerardo Escobar a lift home one night is the same man, she drugs him and sets about extracting a confession.

Is Roberto guilty or is Paulina crazy? Either way, Gerardo soon sees a new side to his wife.

Clare Evans-Argent gives a performance as Paulina, whom we first see as a vulnerable woman. As the play progresses, she runs through a full range of emotions until she shows herself to be as ruthless as her former captors.

James Willstrop as Gerardo is by turns loving, supportive, manipulative, exasperated and sceptical. There are moments of humour between him and the luckless Roberto, played by Stuart Newsome, upon whose capable shoulders falls much of the physicality of the play.

Special mention to those responsible for scene changes, done with poker faces in full view of the audience

Expertly directed by Rachel Conyers, the play deliberately leaves unanswered questions.

It runs at Harrogate Studio Theatre until Saturday, daily at 7.45pm with a Saturday matinee at 2pm. Tickets: 01423 502 116.