‘Roots’ by Arnold Wesker, Donmar Warehouse, London


Jessica Raine starring as Beatie Bryant. By Stephen Cummiskey.
Jessica Raine starring as Beatie Bryant. By Stephen Cummiskey.

 ‘The world’s been growing for two thousand years and we haven’t noticed it” cries new Londoner, Beatie Bryant (Jessica Raine), visiting her family in rural Norfolk. No one listens. Part of Wesker’s trilogy, this kitchen sink drama explores Beatie’s family ‘roots’ cut off from the ‘roots’ of socialism. Clinging zealously to every syllable her city boy Ronnie ever uttered, his quotes energetically fly from the pedestals of kitchen chairs. Through her pursuit of enlightenment, Beatie finds her own political voice. Wesker begins to challenge the 1950s stereotypes of floral, apron-wearing housewifery, caught in a post-war whirlwind.

Precisely crafted, Hildegard Bechtler’s set excels on attention to detail. From candles and warm bread to frilly lamps and trifle, the quality of life subtly escalates across the working class spectrum. It visually represents familial and social hierarchies. Lighting and sound enrich the isolation outside, as silvery projections of gusting trees glimmer above the looming, cottage-like wooden beams.

Director, James Macdonald, is careful to take his time. In fact, he takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes (two short intervals), to let the potato-scraping, egg-cracking and tea-dripping tension culminate. However, some pauses could have been shorter. In Act Two, the noisy shuffling of dinner plates in a scene change blackout unnecessarily repeats itself once the lights are up and, for a moment, the play risks losing the audience’s engagement.

It is wonderfully cast. The Norfolk accents are strong and Linda Basset’s portrayal of a hobbling Mrs Bryant is delicate and, at times, humorous. But, it is Raine’s resilient performance, her powerfully felt speeches, which strike out at the political heartstrings of Wesker’s play, shouting “I’m tellin’ you we’ve got no roots.”

Linda Bassett as Mrs Bryant. By Stephen Cummiskey.
Linda Bassett as Mrs Bryant. By Stephen Cummiskey.

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