Jonathan Maitland’s new work about doping is a topical drama that offers a clear, stripped-down even view of the world of professional sports. Jonathan Maitland, a journalist turned playwright, like he did with An Audience with Jimmy Savile, chose a current, widely-publicized and clearly defined issue as a frame for his play. Set in the near future, where the techniques are more sophisticated and doping has evolved from steroids to “gene-editing”; it alludes heavily, to doping scandals, team GB, the Rio Olympics and the recent ban of Russian athletes from the Rio Paralympics.
The story centres on a young woman, Eve (Juma Sharjah), whose dream is to win the gold in the one hundred and two hundred metre finals, but is currently only ranked fifty-fourth in the world and is lacking sponsorship. She switches to a ruthless, incredible results-achieving and blatantly Machiavellian coach called Rona (Zoe Waites), despite the misgivings of her sports journalist boyfriend Tom (Daniel Fraser). Rona, operates on the edge of legality swearing by a “therapy” at the frontiers of medicine: gene doping, which alters human protein levels to give her athletes that competitive edge. Technically legal, technically un-detectable, technically safe, definitely comes with sponsorship enticements by big pharma. Fast forward two years and with the final race in the Olympics looming, Eve is now at the top, she has ditched Tom, surpassed her competitor, Joyce (Shvorne Marks), and is ready to conquer the world despite the doping allegations running rife at the Games.
Deny, Deny, Deny has a Faustian form, with Eve as the young, driven and slightly naïve sprinter, who is seduced by Rona and is gradually but not necessarily subtly guided away from her views of ethics and fair-play. Maitland clearly depicts the dynamics of the coach-athlete relationship, the cocksure nature of Olympic-level professional ambitions and the fact that there is no such thing as clean competing at that level or any sense of level playing field for that matter. Everything goes until, the rules catch-up with the technology and adjust accordingly. What it lacks is a bit of depth, the characters are a bit two-dimensional and at times the text is like a newspaper article excerpt. It does not add anything new to the debate or give it a twist, but rather summarises it succinctly.
With all-round good acting, Zoe Waites is the one that stands out. Her Rona is powerful, intense, razor-sharp and a master manipulator; she dominates unrepentantly. The production itself is good, Polly Sullivan’s design is stark and works brilliantly creating the appropriate tone for each scene. Despite the fact that it proves hard to tackle the issue of how to recreate an athletic event in the limited space of Park200.
All in all is an enjoyable play, recreating faithfully and energetically the world of high-powered sports.
- By Jonathan Maitland
- Directed by Brendan O’Hea
- Cast: Juma Sharkah, Zoe Waites, Shvorne Marks, Daniel Fraser, Sarah Finigan
- Park Theatre, London
- Until 3 December 2016
- Review by Katerina Yannouli
- 6 November 2016