- The Dramatic Art Of David Storey: The Journey Of A Playwright
David Storey was once considered a formidable force in British New Wave drama, on a par with John Arden, John Osborne and Harold Pinter. Yet despite his early success and his impressive output of over two dozen plays and novels, his work has inspired only a negligible amount of scholarly criticism. Herbert Liebman’s The Dramatic Art of David Storey is an admirable attempt to give Storey’s dramatic opus the attention it deserves. This book takes a more comprehensive approach than either John Russell Taylor’s biographical sketch or William Hutchings’s in-depth analysis of Storey’s plays. While Storey’s dramas are usually regarded as having little in common with each other, Liebman argues that all but two plays, Cromwell and Phoenix, revolve around three controlling thematic concerns—madness, work, and the family. He chronologically organizes the canon of plays within these three categories to examine “the development of Storey’s technique as a dramatist as well as his evolving understanding of the thematic material he is exploring” (2).
“Plays of Madness” groups together The Restoration of Arnold Middleton, Home, Sisters, and Stage. Following the ideas laid out in Laura Weaver’s “Madness and the Family in David Storey’s Plays” (Hutchings, David Storey: A Casebook [New York: Garland, 1992]), his discussion uses British psychologist R. D. Laing’s understanding of madness to show how Storey pits the pressures of family and social norms against characters. “Plays of Work” examines The Contractor, The Changing Room, and Life Class. Storey creates symbolic metaphors out of seemingly trivial events: workmen constructing a wedding marquee, rugby players getting dressed, and art students sketching a nude study, in order to muse on aesthetics and the transience of life. In Celebration, The Farm, Mother’s Day, Early Days, and The March on Russia are examined together in “Family Plays.” In Celebration, The Farm, and The March on Russia specifically focus on the conflicts between working-class parents and their University-educated children. Liebman uses an intertextual analysis on the later plays to show Storey’s cynical perspective on the socio-economic changes caused by Britain’s post-war educational reform.
The book’s last chapter, “A Tentative Assessment,” offers some concluding remarks on the strengths of Storey’s dramaturgy. Although Liebman [End Page 145] qualifies some plays as dramatic failures, his close readings of all the plays show how Storey’s entire playwriting career “has demonstrated a constant search for new structures” (156), highlighting Storey’s different approaches to the same subject matter. Moreover, Liebman posits Storey’s dramas work best onstage when a precise image, like the construction of the marquee, controls his thematic material.
Liebman analyzes Storey’s plays astutely, but his approach to the work is to an extent limited by his desire to unify Storey’s drama into a cohesive whole. A more flexible structure could have enriched this study. Furthermore, Liebman only cursorily deals with the drama’s socio-political context at the end of his study, even while he classifies Storey as a working-class playwright. Though Liebman hints that Storey’s work documents “the painful division that exists between working-class parents and their educated and permanently alienated children” (164), he fails to consider how heavily an understanding of Britain’s historical situation during the post-war period weighs on all the plays.
Nevertheless, these omissions by no means destroy the value of Liebman’s book as an introduction to Storey’s dramaturgy. The book integrates scattered scholarly opinions into a play by play analysis, and provides a bibliography of critical writings, as well as a complete listing of Storey’s dramatic and nondramatic works (including rare publication information on Phoenix). Hopefully, this book will help regenerate serious interest in David Storey’s plays, and provide a foundation for future scholarship.