David Storey Essay - Storey, David (Vol. 4)

Storey, David (Vol. 4)

Storey, David 1933–

Storey is a British playwright and novelist whose work explores problems of alienation in contemporary society.

[A] talented young English novelist, David Storey, followed two sharply perceptive novels about class and love in northern England with a fantastic parable in Radcliffe (1963). Radcliffe has two heroes who alternately attract and repel each other in a series of violently improbable actions. On one level, the heroes represent the two social classes in a northern town, and their attractions and repulsions are given a social dimension. But the upper-class character is also made the "soul" and the lower-class the "body," their friendship representing an uneasy, frequently violent, and finally destructive alliance. Storey has claimed that all his novels fit a pattern that the first, the novel of the professional rugby player, This Sporting Life (1960) was the novel of "body," that the second, Flight into Camden (1960) was the novel of "soul," and that the third, Radcliffe, is the impossible combination of the two. Yet, despite Storey's intention, the first two novels did not depend on their symbolic function; they conveyed a kind of complex verisimilitude that overwhelmed and enlivened the symbols. Only in Radcliffe is the symbolic machinery obtrusive, solemnly necessary to provide both coherence and relevance.

James Gindin, in his Harvest of a Quiet Eye: The Novel of Compassion, Indiana University Press, 1971, pp. 339-40.

[In] many respects Storey's plays seem rather anachronistically balanced, direct and realistic, beautifully shaped and with a meticulous notation of everyday speech. So much so that critics have started bandying the name of Chekhov about in their vicinity, and commenting on how well-made and—what was until very recently the last word in polite damnation—'well-written' they are….

It is precisely this quality—the teasing and elusive feeling that the plays have a sort of weight and density which one cannot logically justify—which makes David Storey's plays (and for that matter his novels) so distinctive in the contemporary British scene. One would guess, I think, that though the plays have an extraordinary and unerring instinct for what works in the theatre, they were written by someone with no passionate interest in the theatre or close involvement in the latest movements, the approved positions for a modern playwright. A lot of their material is clearly autobiographical—not so much, presumably, in the details of plot, character and situation, but in the backgrounds and ways of life evoked…. The experiences give immediacy and body to his works; but finally any documentary interest is strictly coincidental. They are so compelling because of the intensity with which they summon up one man's private vision of the world….

[Home] is built of great gaping silences, and words which are hardly better, or hardly different—Pinter's second silence, when speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it. Thus Home is completely non-literary in its effect; it makes sense only in the theatrical situation of people on a stage, speaking and moving, and people in an audience, watching and listening, and understanding more through their instincts than through their intelligences.

This is rather a remarkable development in Storey, though his plays have been becoming progressively less literary, less dependent on the words of dialogue, for the principal effect. His strength as a dramatist up to now has been his isolation from fashion, his ability to follow his own vision unswervingly in the theatre and find to his hand precisely the right means of doing so. One could label his earlier three plays produced 'conservative' in technique if one wanted to, but the question does not arise because one never feels that there was any real choice of technique: the idea determined its form of expression, and that was that. In Home this remains so, even if the ideas have changed and the form of expression has changed with them. The slight flurry of discussion when the play opened about whether Storey had undergone an influence from Pinter seemed, more than usual, grotesquely irrelevant.

John Russell Taylor, "David Storey," in his The Second Wave: British Drama for the Seventies (reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; copyright © 1971 by John Russell Taylor), Hill & Wang, 1971, pp. 141-54.

The Changing Room, by David Storey, is documentary theatre with social implications and symbolic overtones. It takes place in the locker room (changing room) of a North-of-England Rugby League team, a bunch of semi-professionals ranging from miners and mill workers to a few teachers and such. The play covers the period from just before to just after a game and includes among its characters the team owner, a successful, knighted businessman, the club secretary, the players, coaches, trainers, referee, masseur and, at the bottom of the hierarchic scale, the cleaner, a crazy old man muttering about the cold weather being part of a sinister Russian plot to Communize the world. This spectrum, extending from bluffly jovial but shrewdly calculating owner, through various intermediary stages, down to semidemented drudge, gives the play its slice-of-life, societal-cross-section aspect. There is some suggestion of the slackening and reshuffling of the caste system, but also a clear sense of its persisting all the same.

Principally, though, the play is an almost cinéma-vérité rendering of the shedding of civilian identities to become players and teammates; of the effort and dirtying, the injuries and pain that make up the game; of the elation and rowdy horseplay after the victory; and of the changing back into civilians, with the locker room becoming once again a soiled, disheveled disaster area for the cleaner to confront with his grudging, cantankerous ministrations. But here the title itself becomes significant: The Changing Room, the space in which a change comes to pass. The owner has moved up the social scale, some of the players have improved their status by becoming star athletes; others, cuckolded by their very buddies, have been pushed down the ladder. Yet, in a deeper sense, nothing changes in this changing room….

David Storey is a minimalist, as we know from such other plays of his as Home and The Contractor. Within his narrow range, he works with sure and suggestive brush-strokes. But such is the duration of a play [here, The Changing Room] that it requires more brushstrokes to fill it out than are consistent with minimalism. The minutiae have a way of becoming too numerous for stark simplicity, and still remaining too minute.

John Simon, in The Hudson Review (copyright 1973 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Summer, 1973, pp. 340-41.

A Temporary Life … is not the tragedy of the elderly, but the tragedy of the younger and the more disaffected ciphers of our society. It is a novel of provincial life. Specifically, the provincial life of one Colin Freestone, an art-teacher and (so that we know he's not one of these art-teacher 'types') an ex-boxer…. He is not a hero in anything but the technical sense, but I got the impression that his laconic and often brutal manner was designed to be interesting. I found it as aimless and as incomprehensible as all of the other lives in the novel, and that may well be the point. And I am not one to scoff at angst.

As befits the fall … of an ex-boxer, the style of Mr Storey's novel is hard and abrupt. He uses the present indicative in what is a perpetually interrupted stream of northern consciousness. Conversations and movement are of the mechanical variety, as though the distance between author and character is the length of a puppet's string….

[Like] the beat of the tom-tom in the jungle, there may be passions lurking beneath the staccato. But in fact it turns out that there are none, and when these brief conversations are decoded they add up to nothing more than fashionable angst and alienation. Complete with the romantic landscape of chimneys and bed-sits, moors and tenements. But Mr Storey protests too much. Now there is a genuine and human sadness about the novel…. But futility and incoherence become the status quo of the narrative, and Storey becomes the victim of his mood.

Adultery, violence and boredom are the universal constituents of human life (said Samuel Johnson as he kicked himself), and I don't know why Mr Storey takes them so seriously. When they become central to the narrative, they also become portentous and trite—to go back to my original point, they are low matters treated in a high style. They are better as the vehicle for comedy or farce, and it is when Mr Storey is being funny that he is at his best.

Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1973 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), September 22, 1973, p. 377.

One shouldn't confuse ambition with effect, but in Storey's case his talent only seems completely itself when stretched in contention with the greatest, wrestling with the memories of Hardy, the Brontës and Lawrence. It wasn't just the fact that his earlier plays seemed easy that I objected to. It was that their facility made them seem more trivial than he is.

Ronald Bryden, in Plays and Players, October, 1973, p. 49.

The parlour of David Storey's fine new play, The Farm …, is stuffed with easy furniture and the collected bric-a-brac of a lifetime. You might remove your muddy boots if you went in, but you wouldn't need to dress up. As in so many [Storey plays] you feel yourself, in a very rare way, almost able to project your own physical presence into the world they so mesmerically create. It's a world that stays in your head for days after, and it's not a particularly comfortable parasite.

The twentieth century has not allowed this Yorkshire farm—isolated as it might seem if seen from road, rail or plane—to by-pass its buffetings. Although, as at Haworth Parsonage, the windows give out on to the moors, the three sisters are as unlikely to write tortured classics as they are to die of consumption; their brother may share with Branwell the spirit of a failed poet, but the spit and anger have gone out of him. On the great white road of worldly progress they, like most of us, are feeling somewhat rootless.

As in Home, where the home was no home at all, so the farm, which should be the symbol of growth and fertility, nurtures only dashed hopes; behind the smell of a good old-fashioned breakfast, there's an odour of waste. The household is not just a clutch of characters but emblems in an entirely natural form….

Storey writes about women in The Farm with far more clarity than I remember in his earlier plays. The three sisters are carefully individualised, each caught at a precise moment of their development….

After Storey's last foray, Cromwell, The Farm may seem like a return to less adventurous ground, to the home territory of In Celebration and The Contractor, but … I see no reason to complain. After all, Cézanne painted plenty of apples.

Helen Dawson, in Plays and Players, November, 1973, pp. 42-3.

There is not much in the way of illumination [in Pasmore], apart from Mr. Storey's general observations about our precarious grasp on sanity in a loony, hostile world or his suggestion that British meaninglessness is just like everyone else's, except rather more laconic. The real difficulty is that Mr. Storey doesn't find his character sufficiently interesting to make him articulate. The result is an utterly barren and unrewarding book.

Paul Theroux, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 17, 1974, p. 40.

Mr. Storey is an absorbing writer, and he captures in a completely believable way the terrible bleakness of Pasmore's family's coal-mining town and the bewilderment and anguish of a family falling apart. But the wife, the children, and all of Pasmore's friends enter and exit so rapidly (if dramatically) that we never really get to know who any of them are, and the expression that the characters utter so frequently—"Ah, well"—is more or less what comes to mind when Pasmore returns home, feeling all around him "an intensity, like a presentiment of love, or violence: he found it hard to tell."

The New Yorker, March 25, 1974, pp. 141-42.

Families are a funny breed. They draw, spill, suck and drink the blood they share. They seem to survive everything with dumb granitic tenacity. What they give to each other is measureless, like divine grace; what they take is inexorable, like mortal fate.

David Storey's In Celebration … is in the tradition of the finest family plays. Its relatives leap to mind: Long Day's Journey Into Night, Death of a Salesman, The Glass Menagerie, The Homecoming. Like them, it is incessantly poised between laughter, tears and the unfathomable mystery of existence. Like them, it is a loving, sorrowing armistice with the past.

Written years before Home, The Changing Room and The Contractor, In Celebration is Storey's most personal play. The first three are exactly observed, but in them Storey distances author and subject with fastidious detachment. In Celebration seems to have been axed out of the play-wright's heart. While writing this work, Storey must sometimes have seen blood red.

T. E. Kalem, "Family Communion," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), June 10, 1974, p. 106.

David Storey's Life Class … may perhaps turn out to be one of his less substantial works; even if it does, it is full of resonant overtones informing a basically simple structure….

We are … plunged into the interaction and isolation of students and teachers in a north-country art school during one day's session … where the students reluctantly set about learning to look at, and draw, an actual object—in this case a naked female model—under the weary supervision of a failed artist who has become, in the words of one of his colleagues, a 'purveyor of the invisible event'….

[At] the end of the first half … we have been given an amusing, if saddening,… picture of aimless young people and dotty or depressed mentors. What next? Quite a bit, as it happens, for instead of post-prandial torpor pressures rise, and vague theoretical questions need urgent practical answers. Shall art, or life, conform to disciplines, rules of conduct; shall art, or life, remain faithful to the outside world reported by the senses? A discipline of drawing, a discipline of decency? That they should is urged most strongly by the head of the school …, convinced that 'If life itself is degenerate, then art should set ideals'. But Allott, the man actually taking the life class (the irony of the title becomes keener as the play goes on) is too far gone for that. Perhaps he was a good artist himself, once; now, when not actually peering despondently at his students' feeble efforts, or drawling sarcastically at them, he takes refuge in the idea of the artist as a disinterested person, himself confining his creativity to the writing of comic doggerel. Even his private life has disintegrated, and disintegrates further in the course of the play.

J. W. Lambert, in Drama, Summer, 1974, pp. 39, 41.

Storey, [in his novel Pasmore] as in his plays, creates a world that is full of intimations but without fixities. Events are not traced to causes; motives are not such as we can easily specify. We are suspended in a situation that seems at once lucid in its universality and yet as arbitrary and impenetrable as the least predictable accident. The novel never departs from the circumstantial detail that we expect of realism, but it never quite gives us the kind or amount of detail we seek. The result is a series of events that are obsessive and almost hallucinatory….

Storey's language never tries for the fluidity of dream in its own idiom; instead we are given a crisp, often epigrammatic, sense of factuality. The matter-of-factness only confirms the power of the obsession, which will not offer itself as less than reality.

Martin Price, in The Yale Review (© 1974 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Summer, 1974, p. 557.

"A Temporary Life" represents a beautiful homogenization of English fictional themes—past, present and future. From David Storey's earlier orientation comes a touch of class turmoil. From even farther back come wildly idiosyncratic characters that might be at home in "Crome Yellow." From the dawn of the novel comes our hero, Colin Freestone, a natural man who faces experience with the uninhibited flexibility of Tom Jones. Plus, the novel exudes a post-modern Zeitgeist that might be described as nihilistic….

Storey's hero gives enough of a damn to be a man worth watching. He reacts to immediate stimuli. Rudeness he repays with a punch in the nose. He responds to the misfortune of others with enlightened concern. But in the long run, well, there is no long run. A temporary life consists of disconnected encounters that call for individual strategies….

The novel is bitter, funny, enriching.

Martin Levin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 22, 1974, p. 40.