This is a deeply horrible play. I don’t mean that this is a dark play, or that Time and Tide’s production of it is a bad one, but that very early in the play I could tell why it received poor reviews on its debut at the Royal Court fifty years ago. John Hopkins was a writer with a good ear for dialogue, among other things (his successful career speaks to that), a sensitivity for the violence and hypocrisy of men, and someone who knew what he was doing, but what he does in this play is horrible.
A detective inspector beats a suspected paedophile brutally and This Story of Yours looks at it from different angles, circling the inspector. There isn’t a point supplied to any of this because there isn’t one to such things, apart from perhaps this: men are frightened. They hurt women. The White Bear’s studio starts to smell of sweat. I’ve seen more violent plays than this but none so unpleasant. There was only half an audience to begin with, which I was sorry for, and then half of that number disappeared after the interval. Several of us, throughout, are often unable to look directly at what’s happening. The scenes are interminable: only three make up the whole play, which is condensed into two acts here, making the experience even more difficult.
I went back and forth on Brian Merry as Johnson, the copper; sometimes his intonation seems off, occasionally he manages builds up momentum into something. Emma Reade-Davies is the most assured as his bullied and miserable wife, Maureen, though William Hayes is a good, ratty chief inspector Cartwright. The sound design is utterly misguided – the sounds of girls are unnecessary and the final laugh of Baxter, played by director David Sayers, is similarly redundant. These choices in direction again don’t help things along, though I’m glad that Time and Tide’s production was funded.
There was no part of this play I enjoyed. The cast, crew and theatre may take that as a compliment of sorts – this play shouldn’t be easy, of course – but it isn’t meant as such or even as a criticism. There’s not one glimpse of hope here; Johnson doesn’t want to know himself, the other characters don’t want to know him, and we don’t want to either. I could try to write about this play and masculinity, trauma or abuse, but every part of me was clenched through This Story of Yours and I wish that could be the end of it.
This Story of Yours is playing at the White Bear Theatre until the 27th January. For more information and tickets, see www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/this-story-of-yours.