The Play

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...

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Dramatic Devices

A major device in the play is its use of local accent, or dialect. The characters, all evidently Yorkshiremen, use the archaic “thou, thee, thy” forms for “you,” as is still common in the area. They use the word “lake” for “play,” “ought” for “anything,” “nowt” for “nothing.” It is, then, striking when one of the players imitates Patsy’s girlfriend’s non-northern accent in a parody of high-class speech. Other distinctive voices are those of the radio commentator—detached, amused, nonparticipatory—and of Mackendrick. In counterpoint to them comes the wordless roaring of the crowd, the urban masses whose culture the players represent. Figures of “alienness” and of authority include the referee, dressed in his distinctively different uniform and representing a law-abiding ethic which the players, intent on mayhem, conspicuously ignore. The players’ own uniforms are meanwhile a major prop, indicating team solidarity and suppression of individuality. They are carefully donned during act 1 (which ends with the players running out in numerical order from One to Thirteen), worn throughout act 2, and shed during act 3.

Further indicators of the game world, with its artificial unity and temporary forgetting of differences, include a series of quasi-technical rituals, on which Storey (a former professional rugby player himself) is an authority: forming a scrum, or scrimmage, passing the ball down the line of backs, being...

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Sources for Further Study

Bygrave, M. “David Storey: Novelist or Playwright?” Theatre Quarterly 1 (April-June, 1971): 31-36.

Free, William J. “The Ironic Anger of David Storey.” Modern Drama 16 (December, 1973): 307-316.

Hutchings, William. David Storey: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1992.

Hutchings, William. The Plays of David Storey: A Thematic Study. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988.

Liebman, Herbert. The Dramatic Art of David Storey: The Journey of a Playwright. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Taylor, John Russell. David Storey. Harlow, England: Longman Group, 1974.

Taylor, John Russell. The Second Wave: British Drama for the Seventies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1971.

Worth, Katharine J. Revolutions in Modern English Drama. London: Bell, 1972.