Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Deny Deny Deny

Jonathan Maitland
Cahoots Theatre Company
Park Theatre

Deny Deny Deny

Jonathan Maitland has been building a reputation as a contemporary satirist with plays about Sir Jimmy Savile and Lord (Geoffrey) Howe. In Deny Deny Deny, that phrase being "the first rule in the doper's handbook", the writer turns the spotlight towards the fascinating and sadly all too prevalent problem of drug taking to enhance performance in sport.

In the opening scenes, under the direction of Brendan O’Hea, Juma Sharkah's innocent Eve dreams of winning the 100 metres in the Boston Olympics. However, Daniel Fraser as her sports journalist boyfriend Tom unkindly reminds the young athlete she has a long way to go in the two years leading up to the big day.

In her mind, the perfect solution is to sign up with a proven coach, who has a track record to die for (all puns are probably intentional).

Zoe Waites takes the role of Rona, a medically-trained coach with a vulpine smile and baaad attitude. Already, she has taken Joyce, played by Shvorne Marks to new levels and when they are brought together the inevitable rivalry between the two sprinters quickly becomes catty.

However, former world champion Rona clearly has the right ingredient to make callow Eve into a gold medallist. This Mephistophelian character is also greedily possessive, ensuring that Joyce and Tom fall by the wayside, as the Olympics loom onto the horizon.

By then, she and innately honest Eve have had a series of heart-to-hearts about giving the runner the best possible chance of winning thanks to gene editing, an undetectable and controversial but legal means of enhancing performance. Best of all, there are no known (spot the emphasis) side effects to this miraculous serum.

There are incongruities that become increasingly apparent as a simplistic evening unfolds. In particular, personality changes seem to be written more to serve the script than the underlying individuals, not helped by the need to create instant goodies and baddies with only four main characters on show.

Therefore the rest of the two-hour story is sadly predictable, involving eccentric behavioural and physical change, glory, press pressure and an inquiry.

Jonathan Maitland rarely attempts to get beneath the surface of his characters or situations in a schematic evening that never surprises or develops original ideas. As such, Deny Deny Deny gives the impression of a perfect, undemanding TV script but, like Eve, it still needs some additional souping up to become a satisfying stage work.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher