Exploring "man's inhumanity to man" on stage

Richard Lindfield Director Death and the Maiden, Southwick Players
Richard Lindfield Director Death and the Maiden, Southwick Players

Richard Lindfield is promising theatre which is both intense and powerful as he directs Death and the Maiden for the Southwick Players, but he is, surprisingly, also promising some very funny lines.

Performances run from March 6-9 at The Barn Theatre, Southwick.

Ariel Dorfman’s play was famously made into a film, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson, in 1994.

Richard takes it back to the stage: “I was asked to put on a small production, following on from the pantomime, so nothing too massive, and I looked around. This is a three-hander, and it is a very powerful and wonderful piece of theatre which is actually very relevant to what is going on in the world today.

“I looked it up to see who the original quote was from, and it was Robbie Burns – ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ It’s a play about the things that people do to other people, state-sponsored torture, but it is people that carry out the torture. It is about the effect that the torture has on the victims – and also on the people that carry it out. Or is it? We never know…”

Paulina is a housewife married to a prominent lawyer in an unnamed South American country. One day a storm forces her husband Gerardo to ride home with a charming stranger.

However, Paulina is convinced that the stranger was part of the old regime and that he tortured and raped her for weeks while she was blindfolded. Paulina takes him captive to determine the truth.

“What makes the play dramatically such a good play is that we just don’t know whether this doctor really is the man who tortured and raped her. We have no idea whether she is deluded or whether she has absolutely picked the right man. We don’t know what she is going to do because she is pretty unhinged after her treatment. We don’t know whether she is going to forgive him or he is going to repent or whether she is going to kill him.

“One of the things I did very early on was that I said to the guy who is playing the doctor ‘Make a decision, decide whether you are guilty or not. Don’t tell us. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell the other actors, but just act on that decision.’ In a sense, it is not relevant whether he is guilty or not guilty. But I know now what his decision was… but I am not going to tell the others. The point of the piece is that we will never know.”

Everyone is certainly relishing the challenge: “When you direct on the amateur scene, pretty much every show you do, there are people that you have worked with before, but the great thing about this was that the three actors were complete strangers to me who came along to auditions. It makes it very interesting. It is really fascinating to direct with new people. There is a new dynamic, and it keeps you on your toes as well. Fortunately, they are three very good actors and three very good people.

“But yes, it is intense, working on a piece like this, but unbelievably there are some very funny lines in there that help keep us sane!”

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