Roots

Posted on: 22 November 2013 by Laurence Green

Laurence Green enjoys a balance of humour and sadness undimmed by time in a revival of Arnold Wesker's Roots.

Linda BassettA vivid portrait of a young woman struggling to find her voice at a time of unprecedented social change is provided by Arnold Wesker in Roots, the centrepiece of his seminal post-war trilogy, given a slow burning but ultimately rewarding revival, directed by James Macdonald at the Donmar Warehouse.

It is 1958 and Beatie Bryant returns from three years in London where she has fallen in love with Ronnie, a young socialist. As she anxiously awaits his arrival to meet her family at their Norfolk farm, her head is swimming with new ideas of a bolder freer world which promises to clash with their rural way of life.

Wesker here, as in Chicken Soup with Barley (revived recently by the Royal Court) and I’m Talking about Jerusalem, combines big political questions with closely observed family drama and the piece was indeed radical for its time. In this work, as in the other plays in the social conscience and working class centred trilogy, it seems idealism has failed or been failed, and the only line which appears in all three works is ‘you can’t change people, you can only give them some love and hope they will take it.’

This is an unsentimental production, which after a rather pallid first act gradually gains momentum, finally reaching a powerful climax. Wesker and Macdonald strongly convey the rhythms of domestic life through a fastidious attention to detail – the women forever cooking, the men ceaselessly complaining of pain in their guts, and a child being settled for bed – and at the same time bring our the harshness of individual lives.

Macdonald draws excellent performances from his top flight cast most notably Jessice Raine as Beatie, the lively young protagonist with tendencies towards self-improvement and the fine but self-righteous conviction of youth who has to shake her family out of their deep-rooted apathy but having difficulty finding the words to do it.

Equally impressive is Linda Bassett as Mrs Bryant the mother, grimly stoic in the face of fluctuations in her husband’s labourer’s wage and baffled by her daughter, yet with the feeling that she too is prisoner, tied to a life and kitchen sink from which there is no escape. Good support is given by Lisa Ellis, Michael Jibson, David Burke, Ian Gelder (as Mr Bryant) Nic Jackman, Carl Prekopp and Emma Stansfield.

A play then which skilfully balances humour and sadness and has a truthfulness about the human condition which remains undimmed over the years.

Roots

Runs at the Donmar Warehouse until Saturday 30 November 2013-11-21

Box office: 0844 871 7624

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