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Review Death and the Maiden, Fio, The Other Room by Charlotte Clark

All photographic credits Kieran Cudlip

Get the Chance recently interviewed Abdul Shayek, Director of Death and the Maiden, who told us that he was very proud of the inclusive and political play which he aimed to raise awareness  against political oppression and abuse. Death and the Maiden is a play about the struggles of moving on after living in a dictatorship. It’s about the consequences of patriarchal rule and the abuse of power. It’s about women’s struggle.

Having never been to The Other Room Theatre before, I was pleasantly surprised. The quaintly small room and the centred stage layout created a very intimate feel. With just three rows of chairs on either side of the stage, and the backstage being entirely around the audience, it felt like we were quite literally in the middle of everything: like stage props, spoken to and manipulated for a brilliantly eerie effect. Actors walked on and off stage from all different locations around the room, which really gave the imposing feel of the audience being closed in on. Paired with the close-knit nature of the actor-audience space, it was impossible not to feel on edge. That feeling is exactly the right one to have to suit the mood of the production. To watch a kidnap scene, with a gun and shouting and to listen to tales of sexual and torturous abuse, it would be wrong to make the audience feel comfortable and at ease. We were meant to feel discomfort and awkwardness, and we did. It was powerful.

The acting was sublime. Lisa, Vinta and Pradeep did an incredible job of displaying emotional and genuine feelings that were so impressive on the audience. We all felt the tone of the room change as we shifted through monologue to dialogue, and back to angrier monologue. Lisa’s portrayal as a tortured woman trying to move on with her life is touching for all audiences alike, and her counterpart, Vinta’s, role as the husband struggling between revenge and democracy is played out so frustratingly well that I wanted to just go up and shake him and tell him what to do! Equally, Pradeep played a sick and twisted doctor, yet he did so in a way that still made the audience love him, and so this can be down solely to his beautiful acting. It was a pleasure to watch the three of them bounce off one another in the most sophisticated way.

I felt such a great sense of duty to go and watch this production. It felt like a necessity to go, and an ignorance if I didn’t. In a world surrounded by patriarchal dominance, sexual abuse, and inequality across the spectrum, this play could not be any more current. One only has to hear the name Harvey Weinstein to remember how current this play really is. Fio, the production company of this play also put on an all-woman project following this production to create a safe space for women to talk with each other about their experiences as women in the 21st century. It’s so important! As a 20-year-old woman living in Cardiff, I absolutely loved this play and was overjoyed when I heard the great work Fio was putting into safeguarding those affected by the personal and somewhat invasive (in a good way) themes of the storyline.

The Full link to Abdul’s interview with Get the Chance can be found here 

Cast & Creatives
Paulina Salas
Lisa Zahra
Gerardo Salas
Vinta Morgan
Roberto Miranda
Pradeep Jey
Writer
Ariel Dorfman
Director
Abdul Shayek
Producer
Shane Nickels
Designer
Amy Jane Cook
Lighting Designer
Ciarán Cunningham
Sound Designer
Dan Lawrence
Assistant Producer
Danny Muir
Marketing Officer
Lowri Johnston
Education Officer
Amy Morgan

Charlotte Clark

Review Death and the Maiden, Fio, The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Death and the Maiden - 1

 

3 Stars3 / 5

 

Fio’s timely revival of Chilean/American Ariel Dorfman’s seminal 1991 play Death and the Maiden reminds us that its message is still as vital now, as it was nearly thirty years ago.

Cast

Lisa Zahra as Paulina Salas (38 years old)

Vinta Morgan as Geraldo (her husband, a lawyer about forty five years old)

Pradeep Jey as Roberto Miranda ( a doctor, around fifty years old)

Directed by Abdul Shayek

Designer: Amy Jane Cook

Lighting: Ciaran Cunningham

Venue: The Other Room, Cardiff runs to 10th November at 1930 hours. Matinee performance on 4th November at 1500.

http://https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/otherroomtheatre

The plays runs for about 95 minutes without an interval. It features strong language and explicit dialogue of a sexual nature and of torture.

Plot of Death and the Maiden

Paulina Salas is a psychologically damaged early middle-aged woman whose husband Geraldo, has been appointed to a commission to examine human rights abuses during a period of dictatorship that their country has very recently endure. Now with the promise of democracy, the country is trying to adapt to the challenges that the past has endowed upon it.

Paulina was a political prisoner during the turbulent period of totalitarianism and was tortured and repeatedly raped by her captors, led by a doctor who played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden during her most violated experiences.

Geraldo brings home Roberto Miranda who has helped him after his car had sustained a flat tyre. Later, Roberto returns to make arrangements about helping his new friend the following day. Paulina, who was constantly blindfolded when in company of her cruel tormentor, recognises that her husband’s new acquaintance is the same doctor by his voice and phrases he uses.

Geraldo and Robert chat late into the night and it is apparent that a bond of friendship has developed between them. Due to the fact that it is the early hours of the morning when they decide to end their conversation, Geraldo invites Roberto to stay the night. Meanwhile, Paulina plots her revenge.

The Production Team

“Fio makes fearless theatre: work that tears down stereotypes and challenges injustice.”

This is the slogan for this Cardiff-based theatre company.

Fia’s earlier presentation, The Mountaintop has been critically acclaimed and has just finished touring at venues across Wales. It depicts Martin Luther King’s final night and the title refers to his famous last speech, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” on April 3rd 1968.

In 2018, Fio will commence a new project called Declaration, “Which will identify, nurture and develop both unheard voices in Wales as well as championing artists who have yet not had the exposure or recognition they deserve”. This looks like a very worthwhile and highly commendable enterprise.

The Production

The Other Room’s tiny acting space limits the productions they can produce their. In such a limited area, blocking is of more importance than usual, and the director does a fine job of this.

The design is limited to a table centrestage with two chairs, and a side table which has a number of props such as the gun and cassette recorder.

The use of lighting is excellent. The strip lights were used to dramatic effect by flickering when torture was being told about in graphic deal, thereby heightening the dramatic effect. In another situation, the lights switch off and on in accordance with Paulina’s countdown from 10 to one with the threat of shooting Roberto at the play’s climax.

Death and the Maiden is a very intense play and a wonderful opportunity for actor’s to show their range and versatility. The cast do well in this respect, although, at times I feel that, despite their efforts, it seems a little under-powered. However, there are memorable  instances where they collectively pull this off. Of the three players, Paulina is probably the most difficult character to get right. She conveys mixed messages and her methods of retribution are not those that one can easily come to terms with. I wonder how her character would have been portrayed if the play was written by a woman. Lisa Zahra holds up well in a part which because of the way it is written, places you on a hiding to nothing.

Lisa Zahra - Paulina

Death and the Maiden – Performance History

The play was given a first reading at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in The Mall in Central London on 30 November 1990. It had its world premier at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, (now the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs) on 4 July 1991 and, due to its immediate success transferred to the Main House on 31 October of that year.

The original cast were Juliet Stevenson in the role of Paulina, Bill Paterson as Geraldo and Michael Byrne as Roberto. Directed by Lindsay Posner the play transferred to the Duke of Yorks Theatre in the West End on 11 February 1992, with two cast changes. Geraldine James now played Paulina and Paul Freeman as Geraldo.

It was at this venue in late February 1992, that I saw this production. Twenty-five years on, it is still fresh in my memory, whereas nearly all other productions that I watched around this time, have been forgotten about, lost in the mists of time.  I recall it because I had never seen a play of such ferocious intensity and I have rarely seen another since then.

The Playwright

 

Ariel Dorfman

Ariel Dorfman was born seventy five years ago in Buenos Aires in Argentina. The family moved to Chile via the USA, and he attended the University of Chile and later became a professor at that institution. He became a Chilean citizen in 1967.

From 1970 to 1973, Ariel Dorfman was employed as cultural advisor to Chilean President Salvador Allende and he was due to be on duty, (but had swapped his shift with a friend}, the night of the Pinochet Coup. Known as Chile’s 9/11, September 11  doesn’t only have tragic connections to the United States.  Ariel was forced into exile and his works are known largely for their themes of tyranny and living in exile.

Ariel Dorfmann, since 1985 has been professor of literature and Latin American subjects at Duke University. He additionally holds American citizenship. His literature and work has given him the reputation of a defender of human rights.

The Play

In its ninety five  minutes running time, Death and the Maiden introduces a myriad of important themes within a  short period of time. It was  awarded the 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play,

Although the country is unnamed, it is clearly seen to represent the period immediately after the end of General Pinochet’s, (Margaret Thatcher’s great friend), dictatorship. It expresses the difficulties facing a nation emerging out of a dark  period of totalitarianism into the clearer skies of democracy.

Prior to returning to the UK last year, I had been  residing for a long time in China. Many of the students that I taught related stores about their own families, usually their grandparents who lived through the Cultural Revolution. Difficulties such as having to come to terms with your neighbours who before might well have denounced you as not being a good Chinese person in the image of Mao’s China at that time.  So the issues are similar, but in this case, it was a case of one totalitarian system replaced by another. So I feel that this idea can work in many way. In the USA of President Trump’s presidency, it appears that the country is becoming increasingly divided over many issues. If this goes unchecked, then Post-Trump it could well lead to the situation found after Pinochet’s Chile, Mao’s China or a host of other places around the world today.

Incidentally, post 9/11, (American 9/11 that is), remember that torture of detained people suspected of terrorist links was legally justifiable by the overriding factor that it was carried out for the defence of that country.

The single theme that I would like to present concerns the battle between Justice on the one hand and Peace on the other. After years of authoritarian government, it is an inconvenient fact of life that many of the perpetrators of the previous regime still hold high position in government, finance and public affairs. Getting the balance, as represented by Geraldo in Death and the Maiden is an extremely challenging undertaking. As Paulina didn’t die in captivity, she cannot be investigated by the Commission, so is therefore devoid of any feeling of justification, or possibly revenge. This goes a long way in understanding her actions in the play. Her dilemma, and also the audience, is whether she should follow the weaker and compromised legal form of judicial enquiry, or to take more extreme measure to deliver a punishment that fits the crime.

By coincidence, on the very same day that I watched this production, President Trump (and arguably at a time when  judicial justice could be irreparably dmagaed by his timing), stated that the alleged  New York  terrorist who drove a truck into people on the 1st November 2017, deserved the death penalty. There is a line in Death and the Maiden,  “Some people don’t deserve to live”. Where have I heard that before recently?

This is by no means the only theme in the play. The inclusion of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” , (String Quartet No. 14) which represent High Art as degraded by the association in Paulina’s mind of her tortuous and humiliating experience is another.

In the end, nothing is resolved. The open ending which in my mind is the perfect one, is in place for you to consider the themes brought out in the play. Do we believe Paulina or Roberto? The role of Geraldo, who is disloyal to his wife, as mirrored by an earlier case of adultery, in an attempt to try and save Roberto’s life. There is plenty to think about.

Summary

Death and the Maiden is a wonderful play, which I hope convinces you that it is as important now as it was when written over twenty five years ago. Fio provide a solid production which is sufficiently good enough to do this difficult play justice. The play never has a dull moment and is pacey and enthralling. If you like serious drama which provides much to consider about what is going on in the world today, then I can unreservedly recommend this production at a great pub theatre venue.

http://www.otherroomtheatre.com/en/whats-on/current-productions/

Roger Barrington

Review The Mountaintop, Fio, Pontio by Gareth Williams

4 Stars4 / 5

There is something incredibly sad about the fact that The Mountaintop is one of a rare number of plays in Wales featuring an all-black cast. Its director, Abdul Shayek, laments as much: “It is 2017 and the fact that this hasn’t happened more often makes me frustrated and sad”. There should be no reason why this is the case. Both the narrative and the performance in this production are of such a high quality. Yet there is a tension bubbling at the heart of it that is so unsettlingly relevant.

The Mountaintop is a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King’s last night on earth. The action takes place in a single room – Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, outside which the civil rights activist gets shot on April 4th, 1968. The set is no bigger than this – literally the size of a hotel room – making it extremely close, both claustrophobic and intimate. It allows us, the audience, to become privy to Dr King’s final hours in such fine and emotional detail. We see the anguish, laughter, fear and tenacity etched on the face of Mensah Bediako (King) at every turn. Such is the verisimilitude of Katori Hall’s script that there is even time to hear the great man himself go to the toilet, much to the amusement of the school group that had come along to watch. This level of authenticity, played out in real time, allows the conversation between King and hotel maid Camae (Rebecca Carrie) to flow naturally and build organically, with impressive results. The two actors bounce off one another brilliantly. Their timing and pace are perfectly attuned. They appear so comfortable in their working relationship, and so at ease with their characters. It makes for some excellent exchanges, fizzing with sexual chemistry and fermenting emotional intensity.

The success of their relationship helps concentrate The Mountaintop on a solid foundation. It helps to retain its integrity as it progresses into what could be considered surrealism. Without giving too much away, a dramatic twist sees the introduction of a heavenly dimension, bringing a sharp focus onto the reality of King’s impending death and his relationship with God. I liked the fact that Hall plays with our expectations, imaging God as both black and feminine. This is a God who is contactable, reachable through the hotel phone. Such is the bizarre nature of this section, King even has a conversation with Her. Yet it is testament to the quality of The Mountaintop’s writing and acting that it never runs off the rails. It is all part of the bigger message which comes into sharp focus at the play’s conclusion.

It is impossible to leave the theatre without responding, in some way, to The Mountaintop’s final scene. A powerful poem – “The Baton Passes On” – begins a subtle change in focus as its message is not only directed at King but at the audience too. Once Carrie finishes this piece, Bendiako stands on a plinth, addressing the audience directly. He evokes the great oratory skills of King to give an emotive speech which leaves you in no doubt about the need to respond. It is an arresting, challenging and profoundly affecting moment. On reflection, it also brings into sharp focus the continuing injustice of Shayek’s observation.

The Mountaintop is a rallying cry for each of us to be the change. It is an excellent production that surely signals for greater diversity in the theatre industry. There is a need for greater representation of minorities on stage, and on this evidence, this should certainly be the case. With an exceptional script, an immersive set, and a highly talented cast, The Mountaintop deserves much wider recognition. So, Welsh theatre industry, support more creative people from BAME backgrounds. On this evidence, you won’t regret it.

For more on the work of Fio, click here.

An Interview with Fio’s Artistic Director, Abdul Shayek.


Hi Abdul, would you mind by starting by giving a quick background of yourself for our readers?

Yes of course! I moved from London to Wales in 2011 and worked for National Theatre Wales as a creative associate. In 2013 I left and started my own new projects – I created Fio from the foundations of an organisation I ran in London called Youth Of Creative Arts. Fio is based in Cardiff and is an arts charity with the aim of creating new interest in art projects and developing people within the arts.

At Fio, we want to make productions that start conversations over important issues, which can be seen with our previous productions as well as our currently-running Death and the Maiden. Fio’s motto is “Fio makes fearless theatre: work that tears down stereotypes and challenges injustice.”

 Considering your move from London to Cardiff, did you personally feel that there was a need for a boost in cultural diversity in the Welsh arts scene?

When I moved to Wales I could see a hugely diverse community around me. But many culturally-diverse artists aren’t made prominent on the Welsh arts scene and aren’t given the same platforms as others. I created Fio to try and boost these people up and bring them an opportunity. Fio’s production last year, The Mountaintop, aimed to tackle race issues and how much they may or may not have changed. Despite being focused on the Black American community, it resonates across the world where there is underrepresent Afro-Caribbean community.

In a world concerned with TV, film and social media, do you worry that there is a struggle to keep theatre alive?

I don’t think theatre is going anywhere. The live nature and the fact the audience is involved in productions and are living it as the actors are has such a powerful impact. There is a bigger sense of real-life empathy that you don’t get in the same way through a screen. Therefore, theatre will not disappear. Historically, performance has always been a way to enable communities to hold a mirror up to themselves and allows them to purge themselves of some of their issues and questions. Theatre always provokes you to think about topical issues and debate. It’s a shared experience, you’re there as a group and you share the experience together.

What has it been like, being the director of a play that touches so many on a personal level? With themes like rape and abuse, there is a large responsibility placed on your shoulders.

As a production team, we are very concerned with supporting actors and audiences that could be affected by the themes the play raises. We want to talk about it but also provide a safe space for thinking around abuse and dealing with democracy after a dictatorship. Gender politics has a huge part to play in the show too. We want the production to force us to have those conversations. It’s been an interesting process as a creative team, thinking about how to do it right and how to safeguard those participating in those conversations in the first place. We want to do it in a way that is constructive. We’re going to have some Q&As with people who have experience civil war, rape and other themes of the play to enable the safe-guarded conversation. Also, on the 1st -3rd November we are running a female-only project. Fusion is meant to encourage a safe space for women to get together and respond to the personal themes we want to raise in discussions. It will be at St David’s Hall and will really delve into what being a female in wales is like.

The play is preoccupied with truth, democracy and dictatorships (as many as other themes). When regarding the world as we know it right now, what do you think topical themes such as these can do for cultural understanding of politics? Can they inspire change?

Yeah, the play tackles these themes but also tries to discuss issues on a personal level, such as abuse and raw torture. We want to ask: how does a whole nation recover with democracy after a dictatorship? How do victims move on from governmental abuse? Recent events such as the Weinstein case raises the conversation about issues such as abuse of power and the male-dominated world women have to live in. What happens when women are subjected to sexual abuse and how is it viewed through the lens of the mainstream? How can we empower women to feel like they can talk about it? We want to know how to identify and start being able to rectify issues of these nature.

Thanks for talking with me, Abdul.

Thanks.

Death and the Maiden is being shown in The Other Room, Cardiff from the 31st October until 11th November.

By Charlotte Clark