Roots - This is London
This, the second standalone play in Arnold Wesker’s 1958 Trilogy, (it was preceded by Chicken Soup With Barley and followed by I’m Talking About Jerusalem) proves something of a slow burner, leavened by Linda Bassett’s faultless comic timing as Mrs Bryant. But James MacDonald’s measured production is well worth sticking with for the emotional power of the inevitable third act denouement.
This truly kitchen sink drama (two of them feature large in Hildegard’s Bechtler’s realistic design) depicts a post-war world in which opportunities, especially for women, are changing. For twenty-two year old Beatie, living in London with her socialist boyfriend Ronnie has opened intellectual and cultural doors. Now she’s back visiting her farm-labourer family in rural Norfolk, talking enthusiastically about ‘love in the afternoon’ to her more traditional older sister and quoting Ronnie’s views with an unquestioning enthusiasm. She’s all too aware that life can offer more than the repetitive drudgery of home and housework, yet she’s torn between the comfort of conventional family life and the wider opportunities which she realises she’s ill-equipped to fully understand.
Jessica Raine’s Beatie is passionate, chirpy, confused, determined as she tries to find her own voice and, as a tin bath is filled, potatoes peeled and a sponge cake mixed, a fine supporting cast ensure that this atmospheric revival – with its pinafores for the women and caps for the men – shows just how full of regrets her life will be if she doesn’t break away.