Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536
The most recurring of Storey’s themes, family conflicts, is nowhere more forcefully rendered than in In Celebration, first produced at The Royal Court. For their parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, Andrew, Steven, and Colin Shaw—lawyer, teacher, and labor arbitrator, respectively—return to a grimy mining village to take their parents to the best local hotel for a celebratory dinner.
The dinner at the town’s most posh hotel serves as an occasion in act 1 for the renewal of familial relationships. In act 2, the acrimonious purging of family secrets, which for many years had lain unspoken beneath the surfaces of small-town respectability, takes place.
All three sons are the beneficiaries of a university education. Andrew and Steven are married and have families, and Colin is about to marry. All three seem to have fulfilled their parents’ dreams for them. Steven and Andrew have taken on the responsibility of parenthood. Colin, to his parents’ satisfaction, announces his intention to marry, adding that he will do so only because it is “less embarrassing to be married than not to be.”
Yet with rituals established—education, jobs, and family—something is amiss. Andrew, the eldest and most cynical of the sons, has given up law to become an artist. Steven has “packed in” the much-talked-about novel he is writing. Colin’s reluctance to marry, having an implication of homosexuality, foreshadows marital problems.
After the elder Shaws have retired and the sons have had a minor quibble about who sleeps where, their sleep is interrupted by Steven’s crying, the result of nightmares he has experienced since early childhood. The four men, safely out of the hearing of the mother, indulge in recriminations about the past.
Andrew has already recounted his mother’s farming him out to a neighbor for six weeks when Steven was born. Andrew had unsuccessfully pleaded to be admitted to her room. Now free to choose for himself for the first time in his life, he exchanges law for painting. He recalls laboring for “a home, a car, a wife . . . a child . . . a rug that didn’t have holes . . . I even married a Rector’s daughter.”
The deepest psychic wound involves the death of Jamie, the oldest brother, at the age of seven, when Andrew was nearly five and Colin nearly two. Mrs. Shaw, six months pregnant with Steven, attempted suicide because of an accumulated sense of guilt for Jamie’s death, ostensibly caused by pneumonia but, according to Andrew, actually caused by “galloping perfection” and beatings from his father. That perfection was marred from the beginning by the Shaws’ marriage, compelled by a pregnancy that greatly dismayed Mrs. Shaw’s family. According to Andrew, his mother was “raised up by a [pig] farmer to higher things than being laid—in a farm field—by a bloody collier.” The brothers eventually leave, Andrew to continue his painting, and Steven and Colin to confront their respective futures.
Some of Storey’s other plays also deal with the breakdown of traditional family relationships, including The Restoration of Arnold Middleton, The Farm, Mother’s Day (pr. 1976, pb. 1977), and Sisters (pr. 1978, pb. 1980). The same theme also appears in several of his novels, including Flight into Camden, Saville, and Thin-Ice Skater (2004).
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