David Storey’s play is set in the changing room of a Rugby League club somewhere in the North of England in the later 1960’s. All the twenty-two characters in the play are male, and all are connected with the game of rugby. Thirteen of them constitute the team, two are reserves, and the rest are trainers, masseurs, or club officials of varying status. It is accordingly important to understand some basic facts about the game of Rugby League—facts that Storey, writing for an English audience, could afford to leave unsaid.
Rugby, like American football, is a professional game in that the players are paid. Unlike American football, though, the players are not paid much. The game is rigorously localized, with a small, by no means wealthy, base of support, and the characters are almost all working-class in origin. Rugby, moreover, is a violent contact sport, with an ethic of male hardness, if not brutality. Players wear little padding, accidents and injuries are common, and substitutions (in Storey’s time) were used only in cases of incapacitating injury.
In the play, all these facts are left unstated, but they mark much of the overt and covert action. In the first act, the players are getting ready for the game. They do so with—by American standards—curious unconcern, joking continually, deriding their captain, and appearing to show far more interest in their running conversations than in what is going to start in a few minutes. The challenge for the audience is to “decode” their chatter to see if it can be interpreted to mean something more than appears on the surface. The subjects of this initial conversation are, in fact, extremely various. Harry, the cleaner, a lazy, stupid, elderly man, is convinced that the cold weather has been created by the Russians, who are going to freeze the sea and invade in special boots. The players all treat this theory with...
(The entire section is 773 words.)