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Death and the Maiden review at the Other Room, Cardiff – ‘crackles with tension’

Lisa Zahra in Death and the Maiden at the Other Room, Cardiff. Photo" Kieran Cudlip Lisa Zahra in Death and the Maiden at the Other Room, Cardiff. Photo" Kieran Cudlip

Violence and justice are the overriding themes of the Other Room’s current season. The final production is a deliberately confrontational staging of Ariel Dorfman’s extraordinary 1990 play, Death and the Maiden.

Exploring the trauma of a woman who believes she has serendipitously met the man who tortured and raped her, the play makes a great companion piece to Debbie Tucker Green’s Hang, which opened the season, though Dorfman’s play is more piercing in its precision.

Abdul Shayek’s production emphasises this unapologetic directness. Paulina Salas (Lisa Zahra) is part of an upper-middle class South American social set that would, for reasons benign and sinister, rather she moved on from her trauma; her refusal to be quiet contains a furious, frantic defiance.

Zahra radiates the controlled rage of a woman long-wearied by continual acts of violence, large and small. The character’s often-suppressed but palpable anger makes the references to her mental instability seem increasingly like ways to conveniently silence her.

This is reiterated by Vinta Morgan, as her husband Gerardo Salas, and Pradeep Jey, as Roberto Miranda, the doctor who she believes to have been one of her captors. They realistically recreate an all-boys-together camaraderie. Casual sexism is thrown out as easily as governmental gossip.

With the audience seated on pale pink chairs suitable for a wedding or, in keeping with the title, a classical music recital, there is a semi-immersive aspect to the staging. It’s an unrelentingly uncomfortable experience for those watching, but Shayek’s sensitive handling of the material demonstrates a sophisticated, serious and ambitious approach to small-scale theatre.

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Perceptive production of Ariel Dorfman’s play that crackles with tension