Park Theatre Autumn 2016
Jonathan Maitland has written a thesis play – that is, one whose purpose is to make a point or argue a position, with plot, characters and dialogue merely vehicles for that end.
The problem, as sometimes happens with thesis plays, is that the plot is strictly by-the-numbers, the characters no more than author's mouthpieces and the dialogue unbelievable.
The point gets made but the play is not successful as a play.
Maitland's subject is doping in sports (He's against it). Knowing that, you hope against hope that he isn't going to invent an honest and ambitious young athlete and have her lured into enhancing her capability chemically, only to be exposed and have her long-term health damaged.
But that is exactly the cliche we get, with hardly a hint of originality.
In this case she's a young runner dreaming of Olympic gold, and the temptation is some kind of fiddling with her DNA to give her a literally superhuman boost. That allows her to rationalise that, since the process is so new that the rules don't mention it, she isn't breaking any rules by using it.
(This is actually the one thought-provoking idea in Maitland's play – that the bad guys are always a step ahead of the good guys, coming up with new violations faster than they can be declared illegal.)
Not only is the plot so unoriginal that you find yourself writing each scene in your mind before it happens, but the characters are also out of The Book Of Theatrical Cliches.
Of course the girl is young and fame-hungry, of course there's a boyfriend to worry about the dangerous road she's taking, of course the corruption comes from a coach she's been groomed to trust and depend on, of course there's an older runner who moves from mentor to rival to has-been.
Even the obligatory hint of lesbianism comes along just as you were beginning to wonder if it had been forgotten.
About the dialogue you can have some sympathy for the playwright, because it really is very difficult to make characters deliver information or debate the issues in a natural way (That's like playwrights who can do it, like Shaw and sometimes David Hare, are so celebrated).
Here scene after scene is built on characters talking at, rather than to each other, having conversations no actual human beings would ever have as they deliver informative lectures or take debating positions so we will get to hear what the author wants us to.
Faced with so very little that has any reality to it, director Brendan O'Hea seems to have chosen the fallback position of “When in doubt, overact” in the hope of injecting some energy into proceedings.
The actors – no point in naming and shaming, because they are clearly just following orders – shout a lot, strike poses a lot, glare angrily a lot, pause meaningfully a lot, and generally wobble between auditions for and parodies of TV soap acting.
It doesn't help bring the script alive, and the two hours of drama prove a very inefficient way of telling us that Jonathan Maitland is against doping in sport.
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