It’s not always possible to see every play. They are not complete on the page, certainly in contemporary theatre where plays can be more collaboratively made than ever before. However, this initiative (in its third year) encourages us (and hopefully others) to read more widely. And, as achieved in 2015, we shall try to choose 26 male playwrights and 26 female playwrights for our play choices. The plays from the first half of this year can be seen here.
Week 35: Jack Thorne’s Stacy (2007)
A few weeks ago I was travelling through South London on the train from Brighton to London Bridge. I don’t live in London so it’s not a common journey for me. At East Croydon three people in their late twenties/ early thirties got on. They spoke fairly loudly about cats following them home in the early hours, looking after a (different) lost scrawny cat, the importance of making time for yourself and about a friend in need who’s stretching the limits of their friendship. Their conversation (throughout most of which I was earwigging) seemed fairly theatrical to me. Their chit chat seemed much more articulate and occasionally profound than you often hear. They imbued their stories with a lot of detail. They were talking about everyday matters and yet it also sounded as if they were investing their conversation with something more significant as well. From this snippet of conversation I conjured what their daily lives might look like, who they were and what they did.
Rob, who is 26, ordinary looking and lives in East Croydon, is at the centre of Thorne’s monologue Stacy. First performed by Arthur Darvill at the Arcola Theatre before transferring to Trafalgar Studios with Ralf Little, the play features Rob and a slide projector which shows the people and places closest to Rob whilst he tells his story. We hear how Rob has just had a one night stand with his best friend (so he says) and about his journey to her house after work in order to talk it through. He also goes further back a bit to talk about his childhood as a ‘beautiful child’, about his sister’s death, and about the time his dad attempted to kill an injured dog and all of the neighbours were too polite to tell him he wasn’t successful. He’s fairly engaging and occasionally funny. But then his story changes and there’s much about it that’s troubling, namely his rape of Stacy’s flatmate and how he reacts to it. Rob begins to unravel as he tells us about his tube journey back to Croydon, how his ineffective brother tries to help, and his next morning at work.
What works really well is that Thorne conjures these couple of days and memories from Rob’s childhood with such clarity and detail which is helped by us seeing his loved ones etc. on the projector. He also talks with the imperfections of every day conversation: he meanders off topic, he omits things and he stumbles over bits. But we still get a pretty comprehensive portrait of his life (or do we?). He lives with his brother in a house which is a bit studenty and he doesn’t love his job at a call centre for which he’s overqualified but has saved up a lot of money from it. He’s sort of finding adult life more difficult than when he was younger.
There have been a few plays this year (Yen, The Suicide, Boy) which have been given the label of poverty porn – although plays being given this label isn’t a new phenomenon. You can tell that the label could also be given to Stacy, however Thorne cleverly skirts around that. Rob’s home and work may be a tad shit but it’s not terrible. His house is a bit grotty, they don’t eat like kings, his family is perhaps a bit emotionally stunted and his job might be a bit bleak, but he’s young and you get the impression that he’s still living like a student. Thorne doesn’t diagnose. There’s not the suggestion that ‘this and this and this’ lead to Rob feeling like this which makes him do this (Matt Trueman’s review of Yen particularly focused on the oversimplified, reductive nature of that play’s prognosis). Stacy is undoubtedly troubling but is more complex and deserves deeper consideration particularly as we only see a snippet, albeit a detailed one, of Rob’s life. Where is Stacy? What is the bigger picture with Rob? Why is he only working in a call centre? Why doesn’t he travel or live somewhere else? Thorne gives us just enough to wonder about Rob’s life without making quick final decisions about it.