Clean slates are a myth

Director and actor Stephen Oliver speaks to Teodor Reljic ahead of him taking on directorial duties for Death and the Maiden, a psychological thriller by Ariel Dorfman that examines the aftereffects of a dictatorship on a woman who suspects her former torturer has come back into her life

Sharon Bezzina and Victor Debono in Death and the Maiden
Sharon Bezzina and Victor Debono in Death and the Maiden

What did you find most intriguing about this play, and why did you think it would be a good fit for the current Maltese theatrical climate?

Death and the Maiden deals with whether we have the power to forgive and whether vengeance takes away the pain we have endured for years. A taut psychological thriller, Dorfman has crafted a clever script which leaves the audience with many questions. It is a play I have been wanting to direct for a few years, but as is always the case when considering a play I want to direct, pinning down the right actors is of paramount importance. Sometimes, these actors come along at the right time. However, this play is multi-dimensional, the characters are complex and require many risks in performance. It is very easy to make this play a melodrama, which it is not.

The play appears to tackle the theme of totalitarianism, and its implications. What would you say is the most important element of this when it comes to the human drama we see unfolding during the play?

With so many dictatorships and military juntas falling over the last twenty years and being replaced by democratically elected governments – take for example, Libya, Iraq, the Balkans – the urge is always to purge the sins committed on political opponents and to wipe the slate clean. But for those who are the victims, does that pain ever go away? In Death and the Maiden, Paulina has been one of those victims, haunted by the torture she endured. Her husband Gerardo has been appointed to the Commission to investigate these crimes, in the hope that the country can put the sins of the past behind it. Into this scenario, comes Roberto Miranda, a doctor. But is his voice that of her torturer?

How did you go about selecting the cast of this play, and what were your criteria? Why do you think this particular group of actors are suited to this play?

I have been incredibly fortunate that the three actors I cast were all available at the same time. I have been a great fan of Sharon Bezzina’s work, particularly her portrayal in Children of a Lesser God. Victor Debono I was lucky to work with in Festen and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Steffan Cheriet Busutill, in my first production in Malta, where he played Christian in my production of Festen. They have molded into an excellent, tight cast and their performance styles not only complement one another, but their characterisations are totally believable.

What do you hope audiences will get out of the play?

Maltese audiences are in for an exhilarating ride and will leave the play with many questions and there are many shocks in store for them.

What do you make of the local theatre scene? What would you change about it?

In my three years in Malta I have been very lucky to not only direct some of Malta’s finest actors but also to appear alongside them as an actor. Malta theatre is vibrant and diverse with theatre companies mounting a vast range of productions. Long may this continue! Directing is sometimes all about risk, both in selecting and producing plays. Fortunately, Masquerade are prepared to take that risk.

What’s next for you?

Next I appear as the baddie in Masquerade’s pantomime Puss in Boots followed by appearing as the Colonel in MADC’s Black Comedy in January.

Death and the Maiden will be staged at the Blue Box, M Space, Msida on October 21-23 and 28-30. All shows start at 20:00. Bookings: 7979 3737 or 2124 6619;