Writer: John Hopkins
Director: David Sayers
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Entering the White Bear Theatre’s new digs above the Kennington pub, we hear the cackle of a police radio to prepare us for this police procedural drama first seen at the Royal Court in 1968. Interspersed in the static, are songs from the 60s. One of them is a song by The Who, which is used as the theme song for the more recent American police procedural drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. This ironic gesture is the closest thing to comedy in John Hopkins’ dark psychological thriller.
Hopkins is better known for writing over 90 episodes of Z-Cars in the 60s, but he was a successful playwright and screenwriter too. In This Story of Yours Detective Sergeant Johnson thinks he may have killed the man he has arrested. In the last seven weeks young girls have been kidnapped and raped, but Johnson and his team have struggled for leads. When another girl goes missing, Johnson receives a tip-off and arrests Kenneth Baxter. But during an interview Baxter says something that makes Johnson snap and he subsequently overpowers his prisoner with punches.
The play starts just after this interview with Johnson coming home to wait for a call from the hospital to learn whether Baxter has survived the assault. Johnson’s wife waits with him. Theirs is not a happy marriage, and Maureen is timid and nervous around him after 16 years of abuse. While Johnson may feel remorse for hitting Baxter, he has no qualms about thumping his wife. Nursing her bruises, she listens to a litany of all the awful things Johnson has seen at work: drowned babies, decapitated victims, and the list gets darker. In 2018 we would say that Johnson is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and he’d receive support from the police force, but here, in the 60s, no one quite knows what to do with him: ‘What’s the matter with you man?’ and ‘You need to pull yourself together’ are his superior’s comments.
This could be an intriguing exploration of masculinity, but the play is too slow – it’s almost three hours long – and by the end, it’s difficult to care what happens to either Baxter or Johnson. Brian Merry almost convinces as the detective sergeant, but the policemen’s emotional breakdowns seem forced here. For the play to work, the audience should feel some kind of empathy for Johnson, but we’re never allowed to see another side of him. Merry is solidly supported by Emma Reade-Davies, William Hayes, and David Sayers, who also directs, but the main problem here is the glacial pace, and the conversations which go round and round without going anywhere.
It’s a brave move for Time and Tide Theatre Company to revive this play, but unfortunately it’s too drawn out and too uniformly grim for it to make its way back into the canon. With our TVs full of excellent police dramas, this play needs a good edit, or a more thorough dusting down.
Runs until 27 January 2018 | Image: Lesley Cook