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- British writer (1933-2017)
David Storey made his name at the start of the Sixties with This Sporting Life, his flintily descriptive autobiographical novel – turned mud-and-guts film – about an embattled young Wakefield miner and rugby league player. But at the end of the decade he enjoyed a rare, remarkable burst of creativity, and run of success, in the theatre.
In Celebration (1969), which centred on a fractious family reunion, “took three days”, he claimed. The Contractor, entailing the real-time erection of a marquee, was written in five. The same year, 1970, saw another Royal Court premiere: Home – now revived at Chichester Festival Theatre's Mercury – which took a mere two days to pen.
Astonishingly, he claimed he had a starting point, two people sitting outdoors talking, but no foreseen direction. “Until halfway through the first act of that play I thought they were sitting in a hotel, or a country mansion, and then I realised they were in a lunatic asylum,” he said.
Perhaps Storey was being economical with the truth; his recent posthumously published memoir, A Stinging Delight, has laid bare how much he struggled with once taboo mental health issues. Still, the evening does take us down the garden path to an organic-feeling realisation of the dramatic circumstance.
The initial conversation between an effete pair of middle-aged gents, Jack and Harry, has a comically inconsequential air; it might almost be a satirical sketch. There’s platitudinous patter about the weather, casual patriotism. The drip of non-sequiturs requires our patience. The Brighton try-out, Storey recalled, was marked by “the sound of seats clicking throughout the performance as people left” – still baffling given that it starred Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud.
There’s no grand revelation accompanying the discovery of their confining locale. This isn’t a screaming nightmare of an asylum, though a lobotomised figure passes by, fixating on lifting up the furniture. Instead, Storey elides a particular if indistinct place with a pitiably lost state of mind.
The pair’s method of getting through the day, from one forgettable sentence to the other, one vague memory to the next, has its own incremental pathos. Anguish is held at bay amid their determinedly bright, implicitly depressive musings, but not always successfully. Their frail uprightness is contrasted with – and neatly challenged by – two ancillary female characters, Kathleen and Marjorie, boisterous, ribald and cockney, who shift the scenario out of its masculine, Beckettian trappings.
Setting the action in a light-dappled, scrubland Eden suggestive of mental disarray (designer Sophie Thomas), Josh Roche keeps his astute, touching revival broadly in period, albeit there’s the odd textual tweak – talk of holiday “videos”, for instance, not “slides”. The main quartet are impeccably brought to half-life. Daniel Cerqueira is benignly absent as Harry, John Mackay shiftily alert as the crumpling Jack, while Hayley Carmichael is sweetly attentive and forlorn as the uninhibited Kathleen, Dona Croll forthright and droll as Marjorie.
Together alone, their effort to soldier on, barely coping, feels circuitously close to home, as we stagger from our isolation bubbles into a deranged “new normal”.
Until Nov 6. Tickets: 01243 781312; cft.org.uk