Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter
Banned from Facebook, removed from YouTube and now sharing a platform with ex-President Donald Trump – now we’re talking. At a pinnacle point in humanity’s history, we face a collective force that requires us to work together, trust one another, and perform simple tasks to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, for some, it’s still too much to ask, often living in a perpetual state of Denial.
Channelling the spirit of the miracle playwright Alan Bennett, Neil Summerville returns to Golden Age Theatre with a deviation of sorts from their usual programme. Not least in its shift from the traditional home space of YouTube but in the visceral reality and borderline biographical nature within the character of Neville. And unfortunately, we all know a Neville. Neville knows better than the scientists or the nursing staff he encounters in visiting an ailing relative. You see, Facebook provides all of the information Neville needs and is packaged and served in a digestible grip in a way to make instant news without research a comfort.
And tragically, as both the Tory party and tabloid media outlets understand, conspiracy and false news is an easily palatable alternative to the crushing bleakness of reality. Ian Dixon Potter once more taps into a heavy flow of understanding among the UK public, but one which doesn’t seem to ripple as much an impact as we would hope. Scripting for Denial presents a mixture of a monologue with Neville talking as much to himself as he does the audience, as well as research into conspiracy, anti-vaxxers and non-conformity.
Small microcosms of design work: the squalid dimly lit space, the tape on Neville’s broken glasses and the old terrestrial antenna all evoke this den of vice and mistrust. Authenticity is a regular triumph for Golden Age Theatre, captured once more in the minimalist nature of detail. Its framing as an almost pirate video accentuates the feeling of a grotty secret, something we shouldn’t be seeing but can’t help watching.
More worrying and exceptionally clever is the relatability to Neville in choice moments: the government’s disguising the catastrophe of Brexit under the Pandemic, the use of over 150,000 deaths as a means to hand cronyism contracts to Conservative friends and family (and we haven’t even mentioned Dido Harding). Dixon Potter captures the worrying foundation of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in that they do share a shared thought process. And for all their eccentricities, they are neighbours, colleagues, and friends and their choices tend to impact those they are close to, rather than those they oppose.
Playing every system, gas-lighting the loved ones and nursing staff he encounters, Neville is a far from feeble man. Summerville captures the physical ailment Neville moves through as he deteriorates from Covid (though never confirmed, only implied) and his recovery. Everything from the form he holds to the creaking of the breath tells a tale of how it all leads to the deaths of countless others, all from the stubbornness of mask refusal, a lack of social distancing and most deadly of all – ignorance.
Curt, the decision to not have Neville live up to the consequences of his actions in the physical sense makes for a bitter but practical note. Instead, the detachment of his only real friends, loss of a sole relative and continued descent into paranoia and fear are the welcoming bosoms for Neville. Potter’s pacing cuts the ending a tad, coming over as brisk and hasty, unlike the remainder of the production that allows for a more open sense of pacing. A terrific piece of short theatre, Denial could benefit from an additional five minutes to tie off the tail-ends.