Greenside at Riddles Court, Edinburgh
Ghislaine Maxwell is largely defined by her relationships with men: she is Robert’s daughter and Jeffrey’s partner. But who is she now, alone in her prison cell, her father long-gone, her ex-lover also dead? She’s a woman of many parts: convicted sex-trafficker, erstwhile socialite, pampered rich-kid, penniless fighter – and the only person serving any time for the rapes that occurred at Epstein’s ‘parties’. The rapists themselves are either dead or free.
In this challenging piece of theatre, Kristin Winters draws a parallel between the enigmatic Ghislaine and Ibsen’s anti-heroine, Hedda Gabler. The similarities are, in fact, quite astonishing, although I wouldn’t have made the connection by myself. Like Ghislaine, Hedda grows up living in the lap of luxury, and is close to her difficult but rich father – and, like Ghislaine, his death leaves her (relatively) poor. Both women are known by their fathers’ names (Hedda’s married name is Tesman; Ibsen explains the title thus: “My intention in giving it this name was to indicate that Hedda as a personality is to be regarded rather as her father’s daughter than her husband’s wife”). Both women are corrupted by their circumstances, and abuse their power to hurt those weaker than themselves. They each seek to influence other people’s fates; they are hungry and twisted, and it is hard for others to understand what motivates them.
So, yes. The conflation makes perfect sense. And writer/performer Winters’ strange and complex play is as fascinating as the women themselves. It’s an exploration of something unknowable, that raises as many questions as it answers. It’s not an easy watch – and nor should it be. It’s as gnarly and difficult as Maxwell and Gabler, as opaque and unfathomable as their actions. Winters mixes physical and verbatim theatre, lines from Hedda Gabler, imagined internal monologue and dance – and the result is extraordinary. Winters’ intensity is almost unbearably disconcerting.
Perhaps the piece is a little too demanding of its audience: there’s an assumption that we’re au fait with not just the Epstein case (fair enough, that’s common knowledge), but also with Hedda Gabler (I’ve got that one, luckily), and with what happened to Robert Maxwell (in my case, just the ‘media-mogul-financial-misconduct-drowning’ elevator-pitch). I’d like maybe a tad more hand-holding to guide me through some of these details.
This is an intelligent and arresting play and, although I don’t enjoy it exactly, I guess I’m not supposed to. I’m provoked, intrigued, and – in the end – impressed.