CHICKEN SOUP WITH BARLEY
by Arnold Wesker.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 9 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described: 2 July 2.30pm.
Captioned 21 June.
Post-show Talk: 14 June.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 June.
Days – and a play – of hope and struggle.
Alongside angry young man Jimmy Porter (a description also of his creator, John Osborne) the English Stage Company also found space in its early glory days at London’s Royal Court for a writer, and a central female character, fuelled by passionate concern in Sarah Kahn, the East End Jewish socialist whose life is glimpsed over three acts in ten year gaps, just after the mid-point of the 1930s to the fifties – present-day for Arnold Wesker’s 1958 play.
Materially life improves for the Kahns as they move from their cramped, cracked-roof thirties flat, where sink and shelves have to go on the staircase. Decent council housing brings them a larger flat in good repair by the second act’s early Welfare State era, and they’re there still as the play ends in the never-had-it-so-good age of premium bonds and consumer goods.
Not that Sarah has any truck with such things. For, as she grows older Samantha Spiro’s character trudges on committedly, energy intensifying as her hair turns greyer, the family splits up and her husband Harry – always more easy rider than fellow traveller – declines from sly theft and anger at her criticisms through illness to the mumbling incontinence Danny Webb fiercely portrays. And there’s a fracturing of early socialist energy.
It’s not just the restricted, stuffy attic that leads the first act’s Sarah to look through her window. Against a background of the Spanish Civil War, the street’s full of anti-fascist activists, the Kahns included. By the last act, noises off have become a neighbours’ brawl, provoked by a trashy TV programme.
Meanwhile, the scene changes in Dominic Cooke’s production are filled with ever-diminishing renditions of ‘The Internationale’ and ‘The Red Flag’- from a grand chorus to, finally, a lone voice. And her son Ronnie is finally seen, rootless, home from abroad, carrying suitcases and uncertain as his mother insists “You’ve got to care or you’ll die.”
She makes the point though recalling the incident that explains Wesker’s title. It’s here a fast-paced, well-acted slice of working-class history acquires deep emotional power, leaving hopes The Wesker Trilogy might be continued at the Court.
Sarah Kahn: Samantha Spiro.
Harry Kahn: Danny Webb.
Monty Blatt: Harry Peacock.
Dave Simmonds: Joel Gillman.
Prince Silver: Ilan Goodman.
Hymie Kossof: Steve Furst.
Cissie Kahn: Alexis Zegerman.
Ada Kahn: Jenna Augen.
Young Ronnie Kahn: Charlie Cancea/Sonny Ryan.
Ronnie Kahn: Tom Rosenthal.
Bessie Blatt: Rebecca Gethings.
Director: Dominic Cooke.
Lighting: Charles Balfour.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Music: Gary Yershon.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Assistant director: Monique Sterling.
Assistant designer: Mark Simmonds.
Assistant costume: Kristen Dempsey.