Fam­ily spats speak for the na­tion as Storey’s cel­e­bra­tions turn sour

The March on Rus­sia

The Guardian - - THE CRITICS - Or­ange Tree, Richmond Un­til 7 Oc­to­ber. Box of­fice: 020-8940 3633. Michael Billing­ton

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

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