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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Kings Head Theatre


  Clare Cameron and Sally Plumb/ Ph: Christopher Tribble

Most of Arnold Wesker's life as a playwright can be separated into two acts. The first sees him burst onto Britain’s theatrical landscape in the 1950s as part of the John Osborne-led revolution of "angry young men." Before they came along it was as if only people from middle- or upper-class backgrounds were worthy of having their feelings expressed and lives reflected on the British stage. They lived in plays by Terrence Rattigan or Noel Coward. Wesker's contribution to this revolution – which included his famous trilogy about a family of Jewish communists from London's East End – was considerable.

Act two sees the playwright continuing to churn out more than 40 scripts, many of which were more likely to find a stage abroad than at home. Wesker became neglected. But as the playwright approached 80, a third act in Wesker's life and times saw the Royal Court revive the first of his trilogy plays, Chicken Soup with Barley, which was followed by a sumptuous National Theatre production of his play about restaurant workers, The Kitchen. Wesker is back, this time at north London's first-ever pub theatre, which has been around almost as long as Wesker's plays. 

Adam Spreadbury-Maher's production makes a strong case that Denial, one of the neglected works, should have got a lot more attention than when Wesker wrote it back in 1997. It was around that time that a phenomenon called False Memory Syndrome resulted in parents being falsely accused of child abuse by their children. Most of the cases were shown to be the result of unqualified therapists whose diagnoses for depression and other emotional conditions was that their patient had suppressed a memory of being abused by a parent.

Wesker's play begins with Matthew (Nicholas Kecks) attempting to comprehend his daughter's accusation that he abused her when she was a toddler. Then he has to come to terms with the breakup of his marriage and the suspicion of friends and family. But the drama is actually anchored by Valerie, the therapist to whom Matthew's daughter (Clare Cameron) turns after her marriage and career failed. Sally Plumb as the counselor does an excellent job transmitting the arrogance of the unqualified clinician. Every attempt by her patient's family to loosen her grip is met with the kind of logic that once "proved" the existence of witches – that is, a failure to disprove an accusation is taken as proof that it is true. 

Rather like Dorfman's modern classic Death and the Maiden, Denial is about establishing past truths. But unlike Dorfman's play Wesker has loaded the dice so much, we are never in much doubt about Matthew's innocence. What's more, the fakery of false memory syndrome has long been exposed since Wesker wrote the play. Still, Denial has much to say about the damage done by cockamamie therapists and their language of psychobabble, and for that reason alone it deserved to be regularly revived. 

In many ways the play, well acted in Spreadbury-Maher's low-rent fringe production, serves as paean to being a loving parent. Opening so soon after the sudden death of Wesker's adult daughter from a pulmonary embolism, perhaps there is some tiny consolation to be found in that. Although, what a tragic fourth act to the playwright's life.


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