Deny, Deny, Deny is an engaging piece of factual drama that, despite the slow start, turns itself around in the second act. Both Juma Sharkah and Shvorne Marks’ performances, as rivals, accentuate the best moments, delivering Jonathan Maitland’s new script on doping in the sports world clearly.
It’s the future and one of an inspiring athlete. Eve (Sharkah) is somewhat a rising star. 58th in the running, she is ambitious and hungry. It’s a story that resonates with most audiences: the limits to one’s ambitions? The difference with Deny, Deny, Deny is the central relationship between trainer and aspiring super-sportsperson. And, in particular, the relationship between an older woman and her much younger female protégée. How deep will Eve fall to achieve a dream – one that belongs to another as much as to her?
Maitland’ new play provides some interesting facts, yet, as these are relayed, dramatic efforts become static. Chunks of detail begin to improve and interest with the development of the moral dilemma that Eve faces.
Sharkah persuasively portrays the council estate rags to riches persona. There are many layers to Eve’s character, and an especially interesting aspect is revealed during her challenging of her boyfriend Tom. Moments of misandry escalate through to the end. The writing, however, disappointingly fails to reveal the crucial background history that formed her way of thinking.
Daniel Fraser’s Tom plays the journalist as one would imagine, yet the pairing with Eve is strange, a somewhat unbelievable coupling. Why Eve would choose to date this journalist is not explained given fit her character. Whereas, with Joyce, the combination would seem realistic.
Sharkah’s performance is equally matched by Marks as Joyce, yet the latter is barely onstage Joyce, offers vast scope to explore the nemesis role, mirroring her counterparts; instead, Marks can’t quite reach her peak potential as a result of an underwritten character.
Sarah Finigan’s energy infuses each moment onstage as she plays various characters. During the court scene, she amuses whilst challenging Zoë Waites’ Rona; with this the audience are gripped as Rona is a difficult character to expose. A medical degree and determination drive her expectations and Waites takes her unbalanced mentality and juxtaposes righteousness with ambition.
The Park Theatre has constructed a strong production with a leading team of creatives. Brendan O’Hea’s fast paced direction allows the scenes to flow into each other without focusing on unnecessary moments. Polly Sullivan’s minimalist design, teamed with Tim Mitchell’s lighting, gives the production a basic yet claustrophobic feel replicating the anxiety of having to deceive. John Ross’ movement is key in depicting the detrimental relationship between Eve and Rona. As Eve succeeds, Rona kneeling below Eve’s throne almost invokes, on some level, an Oedipus complexity, in reverse.
Reflecting a world in which women are conditioned to compete with, instead of support, one another, Deny, Deny, Deny puts this competition onstage with three fiery women. Aiming to destroy misconceptions rather than stirring empathy is reason enough to see Deny, Deny, Deny.
It’s not certain whether Maitland’s central point focuses on performance enhanced drugs or women being destructive and manipulative. Had this play been written by a woman, would Rona be Ronald? Either way, it is an interesting perspective into a controlling relationship.