From the man who brought us An Audience With Jimmy Savile, possibly London’s most talked about play of 2015, Jonathan Maitland returns to the Park Theatre with Deny, Deny, Deny, another current and controversial play surrounding the topic of doping within the athletics industry.
Though based purely on fiction it alludes heavily, at times, to team GB, the Rio Olympics and the recent ban of Russian athletes from the Rio Paralympics. It keeps speculation close enough to the mark to keep the audience curiously questioning the ethics of the entire sports industry while ensuring the playwright can’t be sued for libel. It is very cleverly written, but Maitland is a retired journalist after all.
Our story centres on a young woman, Eve, (Juma Sharjah) whose dream it is to win gold in the one hundred and two hundred metre finals but is currently only ranked fifty-fourth in the world. We then watch as Rona (Zoe Waites) a well-known but mysterious coach targets Eve’s vulnerability and desperate dedication. Rona provokes Eve into trialling an unknown and potentially dangerous performance enhancing experiment: gene modification.
Waites is stunningly powerful as Rona. She brings this monstrous character to life with a calm and calculating front, charismatically hiding the evil that is within from her young protégé.
Daniel Fraser plays Eve’s boyfriend, and journalist, Tom. His performance is genuine and varied. His character becomes a breath of fresh air and the voice of reason in this ‘cult’ of a sporting environment. The scenes between himself and Waites are truly electric.
Sharjah is delicate and subtle in her role as Eve, finding a sense of defiance in the second half; after the process of gene modification has begun and the effects begin to show. She plays the vulnerability and naivety of the character well while managing to retain a façade of outward confidence.
Shvorne Marks plays Joyce, an already successful sprinter who is dropped by Rona once it becomes clear she is not compatible with the gene modification experiment. Marks is commanding in the role of this defiant athlete carefully confusing the audience as to her authenticity as a ‘clean’ athlete.
Sarah Finigan multi-roles as committee members, laboratory aides and more, each time bringing new energy and characterisation to our consideration. All of which work well.
The production itself is good. There is the odd clunky moment at times, the movement sections for example seem to slow the production down rather than keep the dynamic pace of the dialogue going. But the show is enjoyable and topical with a brilliant design by Polly Sullivan and displays again how Maitland can tackle headline stories in a style that is very much his own.
Deny, Deny, Deny is playing at the Park Theatre until December 3.
Photo: Darren Bell