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Review of This Story of Yours at the White Bear Theatre

David Sayers as Baxter and Brian Merry as Johnson in 'This Story of Yours' - © Lesley Cook Headshots
David Sayers as Baxter and Brian Merry as Johnson in ‘This Story of Yours’ – © Lesley Cook Headshots

Often, when I go and see a show, part of the fun is trying to work out the ending as the story progresses. Sometimes though, the audience knows exactly what is going to happen at the end. For example in John Hopkins’ This Story of Yours currently at the White Bear Theatre. The end is directly referred to throughout.

In a dark sitting room, Detective Sergeant Johnson (Brian Merry) is sitting alone knocking back the whisky. In fact, he is drowning in it and is not so much three sheets to the wind as totally hammered. He attempts to put a record on the record player but fails to coordinate and ends up making so much noise that he wakes his wife, Maureen (Emma Reade-Davies) who tentatively comes in to find out what has upset her husband. Johnson explains that earlier that evening he beat up a suspect in an interview room to the point where the suspect – a man named Baxter (David Sayers) – is now in hospital and may very well die. This is upsetting enough but Maureen feels there is more and tries to get her husband to open up to her.

The next day, Johnson is meeting with Chief Inspector Cartwright (William Hayes) to go over what happened in the interview room the previous evening. At first, Johnson is very formal with the senior officer who, in his own way, is trying to be supportive but, as the interview goes on, the attitudes of both men change as old grievances and prejudices are given an airing and some home truths are spoken.

Finally, we arrive at the scene that started everything off as we observe the interrogation of suspect Baxter by Detective Sergeant Johnson. Something that, as we already know, is going to end in tragedy.

The Story of Yours is fifty years old this year and its Golden anniversary is being celebrated with fine style by Time and Tide Theatre Company. I had not heard of John Hopkins prior to seeing this play. Or so I thought. In fact, I had been brought up on his work from ‘Z Cars’ to the James Bond movie ‘Thunderball’ John had been a part of my life for a long time. Of course, when I was a lad, I didn’t know much about the police – being a well behaved young tyke at the time – so can’t answer for the accuracy of the portrayal of the police in the late 1960’s. What I can say is that John has crafted a truly gripping drama. By the time, we arrived at the final scene – in the police interrogation room – I was completely hooked and even though I knew it was futile, I really wanted to find a way to stop Baxter and Johnson getting to the point of physical assault and death.

Part of this is the skill of the writing. Four very well drawn people inhabit this story. The downtrodden, desperately trying to get through to her husband, Maureen. The all-powerful Chief Inspector, who thinks men should be men and no mucking around with feelings and that sort of thing. The suspect, Baxter who with his mixture of arrogance and sliminess, manages to push Johnson over the top. Johnson himself, someone who these days would have been diagnosed with suffering PTSD, possible Schizophrenia and definite personality disorder but back in 1968 was just another coppa that had seen to much. The interesting thing whilst I appreciated every character, I never found myself liking any of them. All of the men were basically bullies and cowards, hiding behind their rank and badges, and the one woman was pretty spineless accepting everything that her husband threw at her.

But, I really did appreciate the way that the four all seemed extremely real. Brian Merry, in particular, gave an outstanding performance as Johnson. From the moment the audience enter the auditorium and see him sitting there, brooding over his whisky, Brian puts everything into Johnson and it really works. The same has to be said of the other characters. This is a play where the commitment of the actors has to be 100% and these guys really gave it everything.

Director David Sayers, along with Fight Choreographer Toby Spearpoint bring the realism into every movement. With the fights/beatings in particular looking very effective. My one quibble and this doesn’t reflect on me, was a complete absence of blood which, considering the beating Baxter takes was quite surprising. My other issue was with the staging. Having the audience on two sides of the stage really brings them closer into the action but meant that occasionally, particularly in the first scene, there were quite a few times where one of the actors had their back to us and blocked the view of the other.

However, these are minor points and overall, this production of This Story of Yours was pretty impressive. The story is very much of its time – thanks to PACE, etc Johnson’s actions could theoretically not occur these days – but it still packs a punch, if you pardon the pun, and left me with a lot of internal questions about Johnson and Baxter in particular.

Overall, a very entertaining, if at times slightly overwhelming play that held me spellbound throughout.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Written in 1968 ‘This Story of Yours’ is the story of a middle-aged detective facing the consequences of his violent confrontation with a suspected child molester during an interrogation. The script cleverly distorts the timeline of events (years before Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ or Nolan’s ‘Memento’ were acclaimed for such devices) so that the audience only gets to witness the fatal interrogation in the final scene of the play.

Made into a film in 1972 the original play has rarely been revived in London and Time and Tide Theatre Company are excited to be producing this 50th Anniversary run.

CAST
William Hayes as Cartwright
Adam Merry as Johnson
Emma Reade-Davies as Maureen
David Sayers as Baxter

THIS STORY OF YOURS
by John Hopkins
9th January – 27th January 2018
WHITE BEAR THEATRE
138 Kennington Park Rd,
SE11 4DJ
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

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