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 The TheatreguideLondon Review

Denial
King's Head Theatre   May-June 2012

This is a play written in anger. It has all the strengths of its passion – forcefulness, clarity, dramatic intensity – and also all the weaknesses – complacency, simplicity, black-and-whiteness. 

If it had been born in greater calm it might have been better as a play, but then it would have been a very different play. 

Arnold Wesker is being celebrated on his 80th birthday with a season of plays at the King's Head, beginning with this 2000 entry. His subject is False Memory Syndrome, the situation in which a therapist leads a subject (almost always female) to supposedly repressed memories of childhood abuse (almost always sexual, by the father) which explain all her problems and convert all her internal unhappiness to outer-directed rage. 

Wesker presents a typical example, with an unscrupulous therapist preying on an unhappy woman and pushing her to create 'memories' that are patently false about her clearly innocent parents. He makes his case effectively, and you will hate the shrink, sympathise with the parents and pity the poor misguided daughter. 

Measure the play by what it sets out to do, and it is a total success. But. Wouldn't it be a richer play if there were just the slightest hints of ambiguity, if we even for a moment felt the therapist was sincere or had even the most fleeting doubt about the father's innocence? 

I couldn't help thinking of David Mamet's play Oleanna, about a university professor accused of sexism. Mamet makes it clear that the man is innocent of the specific charges against him, but also lets us see that he is the sort of man who could be guilty, and the play is much more interesting and complacency-shaking as a result. 

Adam Spreadbury-Maher's production serves Wesker's vision well, generating the outrage and anger the playwright wants. Clare Cameron as the daughter/patient has the most challenging acting task, and convincingly takes her character on the journey from scepticism through vulnerability to rage, self-righteousness and the mechanical parroting of psychobabble – all the more impressively as Wesker's fragmented structure makes her go through those stages out of sequence. 

Sally Plumb makes the therapist despicably and unwaveringly smug, clearly following her own agenda in manipulating her vulnerable patient, and showing only one moment of telling near-panic when her victim's mother seems about to break her hold. Nicholas Gecks and Stephanie Beattie as the parents have little to do but be shocked and pained until a late scene that enables them to turn on the enemy and almost defeat her. 

There is an element of preaching to the choir about this play, which is not likely to win over any believers in repressed memory, but it makes its case with passion and conviction.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Denial - King's Head 2012  

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