Family spats speak for the nation as Storey’s celebrations turn sour
The March on Russia
There could no better tribute to David Storey, who died in March, than to revive this neglected play from 1989. It is both a poignant family drama and a portrait of a world that, with the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and the consequences of a decade of Thatcherism at home, is witnessing the extinction of utopian dreams. But Storey was more of a poet than an ideologue, and Alice Hamilton’s production neatly captures the play’s delicate shifts of mood.
As in his earlier play, In Celebration, Storey finds drama in an uneasy family reunion. On this occasion, it’s the diamond wedding anniversary of the Pasmores, a retired couple living in a Yorkshire coastal bungalow. He is an ex-miner with a lung disease and memories of youthful military adventures in the Crimea; his wife is a grudgingly affectionate working-class Tory. The arrival of their three children exposes fissures within the family. Colin, a Storey-like writer and lecturer, is burdened by guilt while the abrasive Wendy, busy in local politics, has jettisoned both her husband and her Labour affiliations. Only Eileen, the third child who has settled for less, appears moderately happy.
As in Chekhov, not a lot seems to happen but in reality an immense amount does. At first, the oldsters’
At first, the oldsters’ bickering is funny. They use their ailments as a form of one-upmanship
marital bickering is rancorously funny: they even use ailments as a form of oneupmanship, so that his pneumoconiosis is meant to cap her hysterectomy. But, with great skill, Storey slowly reveals Mr Pasmore’s private disintegration and dependence on his wife’s protection. The family also becomes a microcosm of the wider world’s disappointments. Colin symbolises the angst of the working-class renegade alienated from his past and Wendy the plight of the political activist appalled by party machinations. Without one noticing it, a family drama turns into a state-of-the-nation play.
Hamilton’s production, however, is rightly rooted in domestic detail. Sue Wallace is particularly fine as Mrs Pasmore, whom she plays as an outwardly plucky figure whose sadness is revealed only in her eyes. Even if Ian Gelder is not my idea of an ex-miner and ladies man, he captures perfectly Mr Pasmore’s surface bravado and secret vulnerability. Eileen’s character is underwritten but Colin Tierney is morosely haunted as Colin, and Sarah Belcher pinpoints Wendy’s festering filial resentment. Storey’s play survives as a deeply moving study of the quiet despair behind the materialist orthodoxy of the 1980s.
The personal is political … The March on Russia Photo: Tristram Kenton