Last Updated September 5, 2023.
David Storey’s The Changing Room unfolds in three acts. The play is a detailed portrait of a men’s rugby team game in northern England—before, during, and after the game. The play is set in the year it was written, 1971, on a frosty winter Saturday afternoon. This is a home game for the focal team. A “changing room” is a locker room.
One by one, Storey introduces the workers and players whose jobs are to make this team shine and win. First there is Harry, the cleaner, described as “a broken down man," whose job is to keep the changing room clean, do laundry, and make sure clean laundry and equipment are ready for the rugby team when they need it. On this wintry Saturday afternoon, Harry is warming his bones in front of the fireplace.
The first player to arrive, Patsy, comes in and starts to prepare for today’s match. He is “brisk, businesslike, narcissistic, [with] no evident sense of humour” and is constantly checking how his well-groomed hair looks in the mirror. Patsy complains about a shoulder injury from the last match, when he slipped on a frosty bare patch of ground out on the rugby pitch. As they commiserate about the cold weather, Harry confides in Patsy that it “comes from Russia"—that is, it is part of a Russian plot to take over the world. The play is set during the height of the Cold War.
The second player, Fielding, enters. He is “large, well-built man, slow, easy-going” and tells Harry, who is still going on about the Russian plot, that he is talking “out of the back of his bloody head.” While Fielding wonders why he has left his comfortable farm to show up for the game today, fastidious Patsy ignores him and picks lint off his jacket.
More players wander in: Morley and Kendal, then Luke, their medic and masseuse. Luke immediately gets to work helping out the players. He takes a look at Patsy’s injured shoulder and wraps a bandage around it. Kendal fusses with a package, showing off a new tool kit he has bought. None of the other players are much impressed, and they keep teasing him about it. It does not appear that Kendal is well liked on the team.
Fenchurch, Jagger, and Trevor enter. They are respectively described as “vicious,” “cocky,” and “studious.” They have all driven up in Fenchurch’s car, and there was an accident en route. Fenchurch hit a pedestrian, got out of the car and quickly checked that he was okay, gave him some money, and then drove off.
Trevor (instructional): You told him who you were, though, Fen.Jagger: Offered him his bloody autograph.They laugh.
Cigar-smoking Walsh enters. He is a large man, “a somewhat commanding figure,” with a weather-beaten appearance. He tells Harry to make sure his shoes are well polished for the match and brags that he has been up to see the management and asked them to heat up the field. Walsh gives everyone a hard time. He mentions that he saw the rival team—they are “a bunch of pansies,” and their bus almost hit him as he arrived.
As Luke continues to make the rounds and fix the players up from their injuries from the last game, the assistant trainer, Sanford, walks in. He smells the smoke and confiscates Walsh’s cigar. Walsh grudgingly gives it up, complaining he has already been fined by the team for his foul language.
More players arrive—Copley, who is limping, and Stringer, who is “aloof, with little interest in any of the others.” Copley...
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says he fell down on the ice outside. Luke takes a look but sees no sign of injury, so he moves on to another player. Players Atkinson, Clegg, Spencer, and Moore, enter. Spencer and Moore are younger men, the reserve players for the team in case someone is injured or drops out during a game.
The pace picks up; the game is getting closer. The men oil down their bodies and start to put on their uniforms. Most of them take gum to chew during the match. Crosby, their trainer, “a stocky, gnarled figure,” bustles in and takes charge, checking in with each player to see how he is. Some players wonder where their teammate and captain Owens is, asking if he is upstairs talking with the management. Their attitudes suggest they resent Owens for being a favorite of the owner. Crosby tells them to mind their own business.
Owens finally arrives. He is “unassuming, bright…a shy man, perhaps, but now a little perky.” He gets some guff from fellow players but jokes easily with them.
The team is about ready. The referee, Tallon, makes an appearance. His main job is to check all the players and make sure they are not wearing any rings, boot studs, or protruding buckles or pads. The team passes muster. Luke passes around the ammonia phials that some of the players sniff to “invigorate” themselves before the match. The men execute a brief practice scrum, then hand the rugby ball off to one another, each player sounding off his name.
Finally, the team’s owner, Sir Frederick Thornton, and his assistant, Mackendrick, enter to give the team a quick pep talk.
Thornton: Go out…play like I know you can…there’ll not be one man disappointed. Now, then. Any grunts and groans? Any complaints? No suggestions?
No one has anything to say to Thornton to his face. They all call him by his title and show him great respect. He waves at them all cheerily and heads upstairs to watch the game. Harry holds open the door, Owens pats each man on the back, and they run out to play. They hear the roar of the watching crowd outside. Harry, left alone inside, starts to clean up the litter from pre-game prep. The lights fade, and the first act ends.
Act 2 is at mid-game and begins close to the game break. Thornton and Mackendrick come down to wait for the team. The changing room is cold. Harry is gone at the moment, so they stoke the fire on their own. Harry comes back, apologizing that he went up for a cup of tea, and takes over stoking the fire.
As they wait for the players, Harry and Thornton talk for a while, as Mackendrick heads upstairs to brew some more tea that will be fortified with booze on this cold day. Harry puts forth his theory about the cold snap being sent by the Russians. He and Thornton get along well, and talk of personal issues. Harry insists that Britain was better in the "old days," and predicts that bad times are coming thanks to the Russians.
Sir Frederick Thornton is friendly and sympathetic to Harry, but he seems to disagrees with many of Harry's more negative views. Harry goes on to say that the current rugby team and players are soft and cannot hold a candle to teams from the old days. Mackendrick, who returns with alcohol-fortified tea, chuffs Harry’s “good old days” attitude.
Harry turns away and gives up arguing. Thornton and Mackendrick get plastered as they wait for the first half to end. The team seems to be doing well outside. Thornton, a bit drunk, shares that he recently had a dream that all of the players were robots.
The team start to rush in. It is half-time. Thornton leaves for his office and tells Mackendrick to stay and talk to the team. First is Fenchurch, with a hand injury. Luke dashes in and takes a look but tells him it is not too bad—nothing broken. Other players tease Fenchurch that he might need to go to hospital, and he laughs and shrugs it off. Harry brings in water for the players to drink, spit out, and splash their faces and hands in. The team crowds into the changing room, a mass of sweat and excitement and energy.
They are all cold and slowly get over the shock of entering a warmer room. Many of the men can’t feel their hands or ears, or even their feet. They warm up, rub on more grease, and adjust their shoes and equipment. Mackendrick compliments them on their play. It seems that the score is tied, seven-seven. The men share some rough humor and then quiet down when Thornton re-enters to compliment their play.
Then the trainers, Crosby and Sanders, and the senior player, Owen, dig in and critique their play, telling them where to hang back and where to dig in, to score quick at the beginning.
Sanders, Crosby, Owen, and Thornton go around to each man and give them advice. The players rush out on the field for the second half. Thornton and Mackendrick head back upstairs to watch.
Harry and Luke are left in the changing room. As Luke re-packs his bag to head out to the field, he asks Harry a few questions; has he ever bet on a match or on horses? Harry replies that he hasn't.
Harry is fiercely private and not interested in sharing his personal life with Luke. Luke turns his questions to Thornton, asking if the team owner was in the changing room during the first half. Harry admits he was. Luke thinks this is “crafty” and points out that Thornton never “puts himself out” or goes out on the field during play. Harry defends Thornton—it is his team, and he can do what he likes. When Luke counters that Harry works for the team, Harry replies that he works for Sir Frederick. Harry is completely loyal to Thornton and does not like this type of questioning. He heads to the shower area, and Luke goes onto the field.
Harry returns and sits, turning up the loud speaker in the changing room and listening to the game announcer. It sounds like a lively game. Then it appears something has gone wrong for one of the players—Kendal is injured.
Sanders rushes in, having missed Luke out on the field, then rushes back out to find the medic. Crosby and Moore bring in Kendal, whose face is bloody and banged up. Luke returns and takes a look at him. His nose is broken, and he needs to go to the hospital. He took a boot to the face on the pitch. He is retired from the game. Reserve player Moore takes his place, and he “jubilantly” removes his track suit and joins the team on the field.
As Luke and Sanders help Kendal take a quick shower and get ready for a trip to the hospital, Mackendrick comes down quickly to check on what is happening. He complains that Kendal is “too old” for play anyway, gets the news to report to Thornton, and heads back upstairs. Meanwhile, loud cheers and roars can be heard outside—the home team is scoring. Kendal is dazed, seeing dots. He asks if someone can tell his wife what has happened. Sanders bundles Kendal up and takes him off to hospital.
Harry sits alone again in the changing room, listening to the game. The team is doing very well out there. Lights fade.
Act 3 begins after the game, and the triumphant team is in the shower. Harry is left with a massive pile of discarded clothes, equipment, and towels to sort out.
Patsy is toweling off in the changing room, preparing himself with characteristic carefulness. Jagger rushes in from the shower room, annoyed at all the rough-and-tumble antics in there, especially from Walsh. Walsh crudely taunts people and makes lewd remarks. One by one, various players escape from the shower room, come in and towel off, and begin to put on their clothes.
Luke returns and reports on Kendal—he will be kept overnight in the hospital. Someone brings in a paper, and they look at the horse race results, which several men have bet on. Walsh has won, which annoys other team members, as “they will never hear the end of it.”
Game results are in. They won, 15–7. Jagger, Fenchurch, and Clegg tease Patsy that his try at a score did not make it. Patsy turns away from them and continues to quietly dress. He asks,
Patsy: Did you see a young woman waiting for me up there, Danny?Groans and jeers from the players.Clegg: How do you do it, Patsy? I can never make that out.Fenchurch: Nay, his girl-friend’s a bloody schoolmistress. Isn’t that right, then, Patsy?Patsy doesn’t answer; combs his hair, straightens his tie.
Not all of the team members belong to the same “club.” Patsy, Trevor, and Stringer are more aloof from the others—they play with the team, but the rest of the time, they hold themselves apart and mind their own business. Their more withdrawn personalities don’t mesh with the busy, loud, rough camaraderie of the others.
Luke passes around autograph books from some boys outside who idolize the team. They pass around the books for signatures, and predictably, Jagger and Fenchurch make fun of the signature of Patsy, or “Patrick Walter Turner.” He tells them to piss off.
Morley and Walsh have taken over the showers, and everyone else has escaped into the changing room to towel off and dress. Morley and Walsh keep lewdly shouting, “Barry! Where are you, Barry? We’re waiting!” at Barry Copley. Copley finally finds a bucket of cold water and tosses the water at them to try and shut them up. It works, for a moment. Then Copley turns a hose on the shower room. That evicts everyone but Walsh, who soaks it all up, thriving on the attention.
When Thornton comes in to shake hands and compliment the team, Walsh finally shuts up and respectfully greets his team owner. He then quietly returns to the changing room to dress. Thornton reminds the team that he, Mackendrick, and Luke will be in the changing room the next day if they want to swing by, gossip, and have a nice massage from Luke. Some players are committed; others are less committed. Patsy is ready to go—he wants to meet up with the young woman he has a date with. The team members all chuckle, and each one tells Patsy to give her a big kiss for them. Patsy leaves. Mackendrick points out that Patsy is a “good example” for the rest of the team, but they come right out and call Patsy a “big-headed sod.”
The changing room closes up shop. Now that the showers are empty and the clothes and equipment are more or less sorted, the team hears Harry cleaning up in the showers and singing a church hymn. Owens comes in, pleased and fishing for approval from Thornton. “He just wants a kiss,” one of the players jokes. The referee, Tallon, comes in and compliments the team on a good game “under difficult conditions.” Tallon is introduced to Thornton for the first time, and Thornton jokes that the ref can always come back if they get the same good results.
The team finally reveals to Walsh that his horse has won. Walsh is pleased and ends up inviting several of the players out for a celebratory drink. Walsh recovers his cigar and lights it up again, puffing happily. Thornton invites Owens upstairs for “a snifter,” and the owner and Mackendrick head upstairs for yet more drinking. Walsh gives Owens one of his cigars. “Greasing the old captain,” teases Copley, and Walsh baldly admits he isn’t above that. Walsh heads out with the team members he is taking out for a drink.
With Walsh gone, Crosby laughs and observes that Walsh doesn’t “have two bloody thoughts to rub together.” Everyone who is left chuckles—despite everything, they are fond of Walsh.
Luke packs up his medical and masseuse bag and leaves. It is just Harry, in the shower singing church hymns, and Crosby and Owen.
Crosby: How’re you feeling?Owens: Stiff.Crosby: Bloody past it, lad, tha knows.Owens: Aye. One more season, I think: I’m finished.
This tough game ages the players fast—by the time they are forty, they are almost done. Owens invites Crosby to come upstairs to Thornton’s office, and they head up for a drink. Crosby suggests that Owens should go for “another bloody season yet.” Crosby puts his arm around Owens, and they go. Harry finally returns and starts to sweep up, now that everyone else is gone. A light military music plays on the loud speaker. The curtain falls.