|Reviews of DENIAL|
Guardian, 20 May 2000
Wesker himself is the victim not so much of repressed memories as of exaggerated nostalgia. In Britain, we prize so highly his early works - The Kitchen, Roots, Chips with Everything - that we tend to downgrade everything he has written since. One reason, I suspect, is that we favour obliqueness over Wesker's brand of emotional directness.
If I have any personal regret it is that Wesker now largely forswears the kind of choreographed action that characterised his early, autobiographical plays. No one can forget the lunch-hour pandemonium of The Kitchen or the night-time raid on the coke store in Chips with Everything. As Wesker once said in an interview, "The theatre is a place where one goes to see things happening." But, as he has increasingly focused on ideas or moral dilemmas, he has scaled down dramatic action.
Throughout his career, however, one subject has always dominated Wesker's thinking: family cohesiveness. As Tynan shrewdly noted in 1960, "His characters belong together, even when they are not on speaking terms with each other." And it is the attempt to dissolve the molten security of family that is the real subject of Denial.
In 21 scenes and 90 minutes, Wesker shows Jenny, whose marriage and career have broken down, accusing her father of raping her as a child; even her mother and grandfather have been complicit in persistent sexual abuse. Needless to say, the accusations come at the prompting of a therapist, Valerie, who is seeking the cause of Jenny's depression. But is she unlocking genuinely repressed memories or seeking a facile explanation for Jenny's problems?
The danger in a play on this theme is obvious: of lapsing into therapist-as-villain melodrama. But, with considerable dramatic cunning, Wesker largely avoids that trap. As played by Susan Tracy, Wesker's Valerie at first seems maternal, caring and indignant at the vilification she and fellow therapists have to endure. As she explains to a TV interviewer, she is the one who has seen "eight-year-olds with vaginas burst open by cycle pumps, young boys with gaping anuses, children who shud der at your touch". What she cannot forgive is violation of childhood trust.
But, as the play progresses, we see that Valerie, haunted by her experiences as a Cardiff social worker, seeks a catch-all solution to complex problems. In slowly shifting the balance of sympathy, Wesker also comes up with one of the most honest admissions I've heard on the British stage in a long time: the acknowledgement by Jenny's father that there is a tactile pleasure in the bathing, handling and kissing of children that stops short of sexual abuse. The speech is delivered by Jeremy Child with fervent candour. It also underlines Wesker's key point: that proven child abuse is wicked, but if we deny the joy of sensual physical contact between parent and child we are destroying family life.
Even if the play is not perfect - the family friend unable
to repress his own memories of the Nazi death camps smacks too much of
an antithetical device - it is brave, honest and urgent. It is also well
directed by Andy Hay, neatly designed by Tom Piper, and strongly acted
by all concerned, including Nicola Barber as the accusatory Jenny and
Rosemary McHale as her defiant mother. In the end, the play is a vehement
assertion of the validity of the nuclear family and of the pleasurable
intimacy of the parent-child relationship. It is, I suspect, the promotion
of such unfashionable ideas that makes Wesker the British theatre's congenital
Times, 4 June 2000
This is one of Arnold Wesker's most gripping and undogmatic plays. The subject is false memory syndrome - or recovered memory syndrome, according; to your standpoint. Did Matthew Young (Jeremy Child) abuse his daughter, Jenny (Nicola Barber), when she was little'? Did his wife. Karen (Rosemary McHale), connive at it? What is it in Jenny that makes her grasp at these accusations like a lifeline? Wesker's most intelligent move is to make the therapist (Susan Tracy) initially quite sympathetic: frank, ebullient, almost warm. It is only gradually that he and Tracy reveal the woman's defensiveness and her dogmatic drive: note that she refers to Jenny as her client, never as her patient. Once or twice the writing gets a bit clotted. Bill Wallis plays three roles and it is hard to tell which is which, except that one is a Holocaust survivor: he remembers something he cannot forget. The implied comparison with things people cannot remember is crass in the extreme and manages to trivialise the Holocaust, which is quite an achievement. The ending is open, unresolved and unsettling, which is exactly right: whatever your gut reaction, and it will be strong, this is a subject that needs the real moral effort of thinking. Child and McHale give a pitiless account of despair and incomprehension, and Andrew Hay's direction is impeccable.
Telegraph 23 May 2000
Angry Young Woman 2000 seduced by a psychological vandal.
ARNOLD WESKER has always been one for a scrap: for instance, legal battle fought after RSC actors declined to perform his play The Journalists, or the quarrel he started recently when he suggested that some of his ideas were nabbed for Trevor Nunn's Merchant of Venice.
If John Osborne's Jimmy porter epitomised the Angry Young man of the 1950's, Jenny is Wesker's Angry Young Woman 2000. One might also compare her to the fervent feminist who accuses her college professor or harassment in David Mamet's Oleanna.
Bearing this is mind, maybe it's not surprising that his strong new drama, Denial, grapples with the psychological phenomenon known as Recovered or False Memory Syndrome (according to whether you give it credence or not). Not only is FMS a polemical issue, Wesker's protagonist is a patient consumed by rage, claiming ill treatment. At both like opening and the climax of this concentrated one-and-a-half hour piece, Nicola Barber's Jenny launches into a feverish rant, graphically accusing her father, Matthew, of child abuse.
Wesker (now 68), though often ireful, doesn't exactly sympathise with Jenny. Even as she starts to "remember" being dragged to satanic cult meetings by Matthew it looks as if she is in fact being mentally seduced by her shrink, Valerie, who draws Jenny in with open arms and then indoctrinates the young woman with her dubious creed.
Susan Tracey's Valerie is not simply demonised. She is a wry, calm, potentially protective woman with a warm Welsh accent, working for social services in a far from luxurious office.
But ultimately Denial is a forthrightly Conservative play, for our hearts are touched by Jenny's parents, mild-mannered but resilient victims whose happy, middle-class life is assaulted by Valerie's new fangled theories.
Wesker's implied analysis of the RMS therapist as a psychological vandal, possibly motivated by jealousy or past hurt and a neurotic craving for control, links Denial with Anna Weiss, Mike Cullen's critical play about the syndrome. But in the latter, sexual fantasies and closet lesbianism played a more prominent part in the patient therapist bond.
Wesker's script is spoiled by obviously authorial, hyper-structured set speeches, and director Andy Hay produces some stiff tableaux. But Rosemary Mchale and Jeremy Child are poignant and heart-warming and surprisingly amusing as Jenny's parents, resolutely loving their daughter and triumphantly defending the innocence of kissing and hugging and, indeed, playfully biting their baby's bottom.
Meanwhile Tom Piper's abstract set - encasing the action in a clinically white cranial shell - is a brilliantly simple foil to the emotional mess embroiling this family.
25 May 2000
It only lasts 90 minutes but Arnold Wesker's new play packs one hell of a punch. Intense, dramatic and compelling, it is, quite simply, one of the most powerful plays I've seen in years. But that's not just because the subject matter - the false memory syndrome and a family broken apart by accusations of child abuse - is so profoundly disturbing. Wesker's writing is remarkable. With its bursts of sharply paced dialogue, skilfully constructed speeches and completely necessary swearing, the script has a terrifying kind of poetry about it, while the plot moves forward relentlessly towards a finely controlled, deeply tragic confrontation between Jenny (Nicola Barber), her therapist (Susan Tracy) and her parents (Rosemary McHale, Jeremy Child). Although at first the 'message' might seem straightforward, the perspective shifts continually and there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Andy Hay's direction is incisive, clear-sighted, and there are strong performances from both Barber and Tracy. The scenes where Jenny breaks down, Karen explodes with rage and Matthew attempts to comprehend his daughters accusations are particularly moving. Designed by Tom Piper, the revolving cubic set works brilliantly, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and isolation, which pervades this world premiere production of an extraordinary play.
Evening Post, 17 May 2000
ALL those who feel that False Memory Syndrome is nothing more than a con trick practised by psychologists will raise a cheer at Arnold Wesker's treatment of the subject.
Is Jenny in denial about being raped as a child by her father? Or is it all induced by her therapist?
Wesker's engrossing play leaves you in no doubt as to which side he is on. It is perhaps too one-sided because the opposite argument is hardly explored.
The idea of making false accusations that are impossible to deny is not a new one. Similar themes are to be found in The Crucible and Enemy Of The People.
Thanks to tight direction from Andy Hay and a powerful sensitive central performance by Nicola Barber this play rarely loses its grip on your emotions.
The agony and anger of the falsely accused parents are evident in Rosemary McHale and Jeremy Child's playing. And Susan Tracy showed the self-deception needed to ensure that the analyst's conclusions fitted her beliefs.
This powerful play may be too strong for some tastes but it's a subject not easily ignored.
of Bristol Newsletter, 26 May 2000
In his most recent play, Arnold Wesker takes us immediately and rudely into the uncomfortable and taboo subject of child sex abuse, using graphic language that draws appalling images to the mind.
As the play unfolds, the audience is able to find relief and fascination in the theory of False Memory Syndrome.
The story centres around angry, mixed-up and vulnerable Jenny (Nicola Barber), who is seeking answers from Valerie (Susan Tracey), a therapist, for the failures in her life. Valerie manages to convince Jenny that she has been living in denial and that she was abused by her father and grandfather, while her mother watched on compliantly.
Jenny holds no memories of the abuse whatsoever. Her parents, played by Rosemary McHale and Jeremy Child are left reeling, angry and helpless at the seemingly senseless accusations. Their performances of the dumbfounded parents were sensitively and convincingly portrayed inviting sympathy for their pain and angst.
Dido Miles plays Jenny's sister, Abigail, who is desperately trying to win her sister back from the clutches of dependency that Valerie has upon her.
This is a strong powerful and fascinating play, which grips the emotions, and after the initial shock leaves you with a feeling that you didn't want it to end so soon.
Gazette, 26 May 2000
This groundbreaking new play by acclaimed dramatist Arnold Wesker received its world premiere at the Old Vic last week.
Denial examines the controversial False Memory Syndrome - a recent psychological phenomenon in which supposedly suppressed memories of child abuse are awakened in adults by their therapists as an explanation for their unhappiness.
As you might expect from this backdrop the play contains scenes that are harrowing and disturbing.
The story centres on Karen and Matthew Young (Rosemary McHale and Jeremy Child) who are torn apart by allegations of child abuse from their eldest daughter, Jenny (Nicola Barber).
The main body of the play revolve around two years of Jenny's therapy sessions with Valerie (Susan Tracy), an exponent of suppressed memories.
By the end of the sessions and after a lot of brainwashing from Valerie, Jenny firmly believes she was sexually abused by her parents and grandfather - ripping the family apart.
The cast of seven act out this play with amazing pathos with some brilliant displays of aggression, particularly by Nicole Barber as Jenny.
Above all Denial is an extremely interesting critique of therapists who abuse their power over their clients, often ruining lives in the name of psychiatry.