The transfer from the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs, via the main house, to the West End, has thankfully dissipated little of the unsettling potency either of Ariel Dorfman's play or Lindsay Posner's sensitive, concentrated production. The audience is readier to seize upon the black humour of some of protagonist Paulina's psychotic mood-swings – any port, however rickety, in a moral and psychological tempest – as she imprisons and "tries" a man she accuses of having been her torturer under the dictatorship 15 years ago.
Juliet Stevenson's punishing portrayal of a woman physically and mentally raped, swinging between ferocious lust for revenge and shattered incapacity to forget or forgive, remains chillingly mesmerising. The situation becomes a metaphor for the "transition to democracy" of the unnamed country: husband Gerardo (Bill Paterson), serving on a committee of inquiry into the "disappeared", is in a quintessential liberal dilemma: respect for due process versus the need to see all wrongs identified and punished... but as Paulina cries at the play's climax, "Why is it always people like me who have to sacrifice, who have to concede when concessions are needed?" Critical opinion is that both the play and Stevenson's performance are in the very front rank of contemporary theatre; critical opinion is absolutely right.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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