Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Why does a victim become a predator? In isolation, Ghislaine Maxwell maintains innocence whilst reliving the psychological abuse endured from her father. She unravels, fantasising that she is Hedda Gabler; both charismatic, beautiful and, above all, manipulative monsters in the female form. Devised and performed by Kristin Winters, with original music by Alexey Kochetkov.
On a tiny dark stage with only the outline of the floorspace of a cell we meet Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of disgraced Robert Maxwell, partner of disgraced Jeffrey Epstein facing trial for procuring underage girls for Epstien between 1994 and 2004. Dressed smartly in an elegant red jacket and dress there is an echo of her socialite past she offers us cocktails jarring against a soundscape of news reports from her trial.
Ghislaine Maxwell was born in France in 1961, grew up in Oxford, attending local private schools and Oxford University before working for her father. After his death in 1991 she moved to New York where she met Jeffrey Epstein. The nature of their relationship over the next 25 years is unclear but it seems that she was initially his girlfriend, later becoming the manager of his home and social world.
In contrast Hedda Gabler was a fictional character created by Henrik Ibsen in his 1891 pioneering feminist play, who also enjoyed a privileged childhood as the daughter of the aristocratic General Gabler. She is recently married, already bored and manipulative.
The creator and performer of the show, Kristin Winters, already intrigued by the character of Gabler became fascinated by Maxwell’s trial with its contrasts between the luxurious life style of the super-rich and the depravity hiding beneath the glitter. In an interview with The Scotsman she said “I was really intrigued by this woman (Gabler) who was so wrapped up in her own head, and in her privilege and entitlement. She was charismatic and appealing, and something magnetic and mysterious about her. I wanted to explore what a woman like that would do if she had lost everything. If you take the human out of it, are you just left with a monster, or someone sad and miserable.”
In the writing she uses sound, original music by Alexey Kochetkov and physical movement/dance as well as the more traditional tool of solo shows – words.
Gradually she strips the smart dress and jacket, the stockings, the high heels to reveal prison uniform. The lighting shifts to highlight the constrained space of her cell. The soundscape spans clips from newsreels, excerpts from Hedda Gabler and strident music that mimics the slamming of prison doors.
‘Everyone wants someone to blame after Epstein died. He was nothing without me, I am paying for his mistakes.” she states, constantly maintaining her innocence. Interestingly, this is the only explicit reference to Epstein.
Recorded extracts from Ibsen’s play provide contrast to the live action, the voice of Tesman asking “How could you do a thing like that?!” Both women want attention, both are willing to manipulate those around them to achieve their own ambitions.
Some of the most powerful moments are where words are simply not enough and Winter shows the pain Maxwell must be experiencing as she is forced to face the pain she has caused through movement and the pounding soundtrack by Kochetkov.
Throughout this multi layered performance, Winter holds the audience rapt as one moment she is her own younger self facing her bullying father, the next one of the underage girls she procured, the next dismissing them as ‘fools – pretty fools’ and suggesting that waste plastic in the oceans is far more important. She creates a chilling view of a woman who could put aside all sense of right and wrong in her attempts to please the men in her life.
Her performance is mesmerising despite our lack of sympathy for either of her characters. It is one that will leave you wondering about this enigmatic woman and stay with you long after you leave the theatre.