Writer: Jonathan Maitland
Director: Brendan O’Hea
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Jonathan Maitland is making quite a name for himself as a dramatist unafraid to take on tricky topical subjects. Following his play An Audience With Jimmy Saville, he turns his attentions to cheating in Athletics, asking whether it is worth crossing ethical lines in order to cross winning lines.
We are in the near future, with steroids having been consigned to history after Rio and “gene editing” now on the up. Eve (Juma Sharkah) is a promising young sprinter, ranked 58th in the World, who aims for gold, taking nothing stronger than drinks spiked with fenugreek. She decides to place herself under the wing of Rona (Zoë Waites), trainer of her rival Joyce (Shvorne Marks), and gets sucked into a world where staying within the laws of the sport means staying several steps ahead of the law makers. Eve learns the cheats’ code quickly and the first rule thereof is the one that gives the play its title.
Brendan O’Hea’s production has a documentary feel, complemented by Polly Sullivan’s set design of a rectangular sports arena with the audience on all four sides. Lighting, designed by Tim Mitchell adds a harsh effect and transforms the arena into a running track. In this setting, O’Hea can do little to prevent much of Maitland’s writing, packed with factual detail and moral arguments, coming across like a Panorama investigation. Human drama is relegated to the sidelines.
Sharkah transforms well from a naive idealist to a cynical cheat, wrecking her unconvincing relationship with boyfriend Tom (Daniel Fraser) in the process. Rather awkwardly, Tom is a sports journalist (“an oxymoron” declares Rona). Maitland creates a venomous villain in the form of the unprincipled Rona and Waites gives her a sharp bite, but even she cannot inject the dramatic tension that many scenes need desperately. The closest we get to it is late in the play with a scene showing an Official Inquiry, but it comes at the expense of credibility.
Maitland’s drama is slow off the blocks and it rarely picks up momentum. At the finishing post. all the play has achieved is to have informed us that cheating is bad for athletes, bad for their sport and bad for the public, but don’t we know that already?
Runs until 3 December 2016 | Image: Darren Bell