Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

The Chekhovian balance, polish, and deceptive realism of Storey’s plays have made him appear to have been writing against the grain of the aggressive British “New Drama” of the 1960’s. However, there are points of connection: Storey’s increased realism has much in common with the work of Arnold Wesker, and his dialogue is sometimes reminiscent of Harold Pinter’s. Storey had read neither at the time The Contractor was written; he is a remarkably isolated playwright. Indeed, he had rarely visited a theater before his first play was produced.

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The fact that Storey is an award-winning novelist, as well as a very successful playwright, is especially intriguing for a consideration of The Contractor. Like other of Storey’s plays and novels, The Contractor has a direct relationship with his novel Radcliffe (1963), in which Ewbank appears as a minor character. There are three major differences, however, between Storey’s plays, which he writes rapidly (as if, he has said, he were on holiday), and his heavyweight novels. One difference is that his three most successful plays elide the event which one might expect to be at the center of the action and the meaning: the wedding in The Contractor; lunch, to which everyone in a lunatic asylum looks forward in Home (pr., pb. 1970); and the rugby match in The Changing Room (pr. 1971, pb. 1972). Life is seen to be a peripheral thing. Another difference, paradoxically, is that the novels are far more “dramatic” than the plays, in the traditional sense of development and catharsis. Finally, the novels are far bleaker and blacker in terms of vision; Radcliffe, for example, is a somber melodrama, ending in madness and death. In short, in evoking moments of human life, Storey’s plays seem much more to affirm human life than do his novels. A similar comparison could be made between This Sporting Life (1960) and the play to which it is “related,” The Changing Room.

There are also interesting relationships between the plays. For example, Home sprang from a visual image at the end of The Contractor: the white table (pulled up especially for the eating of the cake) left alone on the stage. Such visual images are central to Storey’s work and emphasize his artistic nature. (He studied art at London’s Slade School of Fine Art in the 1950’s.)

The Contractor’s great emphasis on stage “business”—the raising of the tent— makes it very much a director’s play. It was fortunate in its first director, Lindsay Anderson, with whom Storey established a most fruitful working relationship after their initial collaboration on the film of Storey’s first novel, This Sporting Life. Anderson has since been responsible for the direction of all Storey’s plays, contributing significantly to their success.

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