I'm Talking About Jerusalem

Arnold Wesker Winds up his Trilogy

Ronnie Kahn: George Pensotti
Sarah Kahn: LaLa Lloyd
Ada Simmonds: Cherry Morris
Dave Simmonds: Alan Howard
Colonel Dobson: Paul Kermack
Libby Dobson: Patrick O'Connell
Cissie Kahn: Rosemary Leach
Esther Kahn: Anne Robson

From Our Special Correspondent
Coventry, April 4

Elaborately laid literary schemes are notorious for their habit of losing impetus as the work gets under way. And although it is possible that when Mr. Arnold Wesker first conceived the idea for his trilogy of plays he intended the essential statement to be made at the end, the fact remains that I'm Talking About Jerusalem, which opened last night at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, is a work of far less clarity and dramatic energy than its two predecessors, Chicken Soup with Barley and Roots.

Those two plays had the additional theatrical advantage of being self-contained. In the new play there is such an abundance of cross-references to the others that unless one knows about Harry Kahn and Beattie Bryant to begin with, a great deal will remain obscure.

Alan Howard as Dave

I'm Talking About Jerusalem covers the years 1946-59. It thus runs concurrently with the latter part of Chicken Soup with Barley and the whole of Roots, ending with an epilogue in which the family come together again. The other two plays were set respectively in town and country: Mr. Wesker now brings together these motifs and the political and social issues they involve. The Jerusalem of his title is a synonym for Socialism, and the play concerns an experiment in applying Socialist principles.

Sarah Kahn's daughter Ada and her husband Dave move from London to a desolate part of Norfolk where they intend to build the new Jerusalem, severing themselves from industrial society to create an ideal of harmonious unity between work, family life and nature. The ensuing action is mobilized so as to put this experiment to the test.

To begin with, Dave supports his family by working as a labourer for a gentleman farmer: this prop is swiftly kicked from beneath him when he is dismissed for petty theft, and from then on he is alone, struggling to eke out a living as a craftsman, and constantly subjected to the destructive criticism of local people and old friends who regard his experiment as crazy. Driven to breaking point by the snide comments of his wife's two old aunts, he declares himself a prophet.

The play belongs as least as much to the wife as it does to Dave, for at every crisis it is her decision that stops him from giving up, and her earnest, didactic manner, which carries the arguments with which Mr. Wesker seems most strongly to align himself. These might be accused of naivety and tendentiousness: they certainly fall with a dull impact in the theatre.

The Belgrade production certainly emphasized the stiffness of the writing: many parts require a florid Jewish style, which the company were unable to approach. And Mr. John Dexter's direction, alternating between extreme rapidity and exasperatingly over-sustained pauses, gave the text little chance to breathe.

The well-rounded part of Dave's cynical companion was incisively played by Mr. Patrick O'Connell: and Miss Cherry Morris and Mr. Alan Howard took the main weight of the play on their shoulders without any visible staggering.

Alan Howard and Cherry Morris

The Times, 5.4.60

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