Roots**** (Donmar Warehouse, 1 November 2013)

Posted: November 2, 2013 in Theatre

Arnold Wesker’s snapshot of life in 1950s Britain, during a period of whirlwind social change, is fascinating as a history lesson and, if somewhat dated in its dramatic structure, surprisingly full of modern relevance. Beattie Bryant (Jessica Raine) returns from London to visit her family who are Norfolk farm labourers. She is full of progressive ideas, all learned from her boyfriend who she is constantly quoting, causing great irritation amongst her relatives. Her chief protagonist is her stubborn, old-fashioned mother (Linda Bassett) and the gradual realisation by the pair that they are essentially the same woman, thrown into different eras, lies at the heart of the drama. The period detail is beautifully realised in James MacDonald’s slowly paced production and the two leading actresses are both superb. Unlike his contemporary, John Osborne, Wesker shows an interest in feminism as well as socialism. This is exemplified in a moment late in the play when Beattie suddenly realises that she is speaking with her own voice and not that of her boyfriend. The expression of sheer joy on Raine’s face at this moment provides what will be one of the most enduring images from 2013 theatre. Beattie then begins a tirade against popular culture which is amazing in it’s prescience and surely a fitting condemnation of much that is wrong in society today.

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