An Olivier Award-winning play comes to Melville Theatre this May, looking at what happens when a former political prisoner confronts her alleged tormentor years later. Written by Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman and directed by Lars Jensen, Death and the Maiden is a psychological thriller set against the backdrop of an unspecified post-dictatorship country.
When a stranger calls one night, his voice triggers a memory in Paulina Salas – one she has long tried to suppress. Years ago, when she was blindfolded, abducted and held as a political prisoner, Paulina never saw her captor. But she did hear him and decides to take matters into her own hands to prove the stranger is the same man.
In 1994, Roman Polanski directed a film adaptation of the play, featuring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. The play's title comes from the Schubert's composition Death and the Maiden, which was played constantly during Paulina's ordeal.
Written in the wake of the Pinochet regime in Chile, Death and the Maiden boldly explores the intricacies of truth, memory and the morality of retribution," Lars said. "Today, the story still resonates strongly as we watch dictatorships crumble across our world.
During rehearsals, we have digressed into lengthy discussions about our research into female political prisoners, the effect on the women, what countries have been responsible and how similar the reports are from different countries – it's a subject that has really captivated us. We will be playing against a white set to symbolise the play could take place in any of many countries."
Lars Jensen, second from left, is directing Death and the Maiden with actors Kayti Murphy, Nicolas Kadmos and Alan Kennedy.
Previously directing musicals at Melville and Stirling Theatres, Lars has staged A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Chorus Line, Blood Brothers and Sweet Charity. Last year, he directed the play Equus which received nine nominations at the annual Finley Awards, picking up runner-up best play, best actor in a play, best supporting actress in a play and the Brenda Stanley Award for costumes. Lars also manages Lady Wardle Performing Arts Centre at St Mary's Anglican Girls' School.
There were many aspects about Death and the Maiden that made him want to explore the play on stage. "There are reports that the torture experienced by the main character is happening all over the world," Lars said.
The rape of female political prisoners is not synonymous with one single regime – it has happened in so many countries and still continues. In January this year, ISIS sent a letter to their followers detailing that raping female prisoners would turn them into Muslims.
I am sure the latest statements from presidential candidate Donald Trump, about using torture to extract information, will leave this interrogation method wide open."
Kayti Murphy, left, Alan Kennedy and Nicolas Kadmos are appearing in Death and the Maiden at Melville Theatre.
Alan Kennedy plays Dr Roberto Miranda who, in his own words, "likes to help people". "However, there is a suggestion that he may have played a darker role in his nation's politically turbulent past – a role he vehemently denies," Alan said. "This is a play with something to say about the fragility of democracy and the rights of individuals to be safe in their own country. It is often disturbing but always thought-provoking.
"There are two main challenges in playing this character. Firstly, for much of the play, he is placed in a situation that restricts his interaction with the other characters. Secondly, he has to maintain a level of doubt in the mind of the audience, as they learn more about the tragic events of the past."
Death and the Maiden plays at 8pm May 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21 with a 2pm matinee May 15. Tickets are $20, $15 concession – book on 9330 4565 or at www.meltheco.org.au. Melville Theatre is on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, Palmyra.
Death and the Maiden looks at what happens when a former political prisoner (Kayti Murphy) confronts her alleged tormentor (Alan Kennedy) years later.