Rehearsed reading: Alexi Kaye Campbell's Death in Whitbridge
Theatres vs audience

Review: Another kitchen drama by Arnold Wesker - Roots at the Donmar


This year is certainly the year of food on stage. We've had baskets of nuts in Liola at the National and eggs, lots of eggs in the Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward to name just two but Roots at the Donmar beats them both.

There are three acts, two set in kitchens and the third in a front room which give a list of produce worthy of a weekly shop. We have a tea of liver and mash, flour, eggs, butter and sugar being made in cake batter, potato peeling, runner bean stringing and a table laid for high tea complete with victoria sponge and the biggest trifle I've ever seen.

Then there is the lamp lighting, the washing up and drawing water to heat in the copper for a bath - tin of course, this is 1950's Norfolk. Roots is in some senses a picture of rural domesticity. A farming community where Beatie (Jessica Raine) has returned from London ahead of introducing her boyfriend, a socialist, to her family.

The problem is that the domestic chores play too big a part in filling the action of the play. The primary theme of the play that is about thinking and living and whether you need one to do the other. Beatie is attracted to Ronnie's intellect and can recite whole tranches of what he says but is this thinking?

She reminded me a little of Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations, she's been introduced to a different world which makes her a bit ashamed of the one she comes from. But unlike Pip who turns his back, Beatie wants to change her family.

The play has some colourful (in a pastel palette) characters: Linda Bassett's Mrs Bryant and David Burke's Stan Mann for example but none of this is enough to sustain a play that rolled in at nearly three hours long (final preview) including two intervals.

While beautifully performed there is only so much staged household chores you can watch before it just gets a bit boring.

Potential avenues of interest are left unexplored, for example, Jenny (Lisa Ellis), Beatie's sister has an illegitimate child and won't name the father, Beatie's father is stingy but never has any money and all the men seem to have mysterious pains of some sort.

As an observation of everyday rural family life in the 1950s you probably can't better it and it is certainly of its time but as a three hour play?  I'm not going to lie, I was tempted to bail at the second interval but thought I'd stick it out having come so far and I'm glad I did. The final act does come to the point albeit not a point that warrants nearly two hours of set up.

I'm slightly intrigued as to why James Macdonald who's directed plays such as Love and Information and Cock chose to do it.

Roots runs at the Donmar Warehouse until November 30 (that's a lot of food they going to have to go through).


James Macdonald as alluded to directed Cock which of course starred Mr W.