Perhaps the most important character in this down-to earth play, Roots, by Arnold Wesker, which had its premier at the Belgrade, Coventry, last night, is Ronnie, a character we never see.
It was Ronnie who awoke in the simple country lass, Beatie Bryant, an insatiable thirst for knowledge. It was Ronnie who filled her mind with weird abstract ideas which she endeavoured to explain to her farm-labouring parents and relatives.
Nobody could have taken the part of Beatie better than Joan Plowright, the distinguished young actress who was brought into prominence through her work with the English Stage Company and on television.
Her's is a pivotal and an exhausting part and she plays it with understanding and great depth of emotion. Defeated in the effort to arouse her family from lethargy she triumphs in the end by finding her own "roots" and developing her own philosophy of life.
Don't imagine from this that the play is heavy going. There are humorous touches to which Charles Kay, Patsy Byrne, Patrick O'Connell, Gwen Nelson, Jack Rodney, Richard Martin, Alan Howard and Brenda Peters contributed.
Directed by John Dexter and designed by Jocelyn Herbert this is a play which should definitely be put among the "musts."
Nuneaton Evening Tribune, 26th May 1959.
Arnold Wesker, who created an impression in London at the Royal Court last year with his first play, Chicken Soup with Barley, again demonstrates his talent for observation and writing in the second part of his proposed trilogy, Roots, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. But although written with sincerity and some wit, it has less to say.
The scene is not the East End this time but Norfolk, to which the heroine, Beatrice Bryant, returns to re-discover her family's rural stagnation, and to bewilder them with opinions and attitudes from her "intellectual world" in London, and her fiancé Ronnie Kahn - who is not seen. She attempts to convert her family from their apathy to life but makes no impression.
Joan Plowright's performance is a triumph. She wins sympathy with her agonising struggle against environment, and to convince her family of the futility of their way of life, without being cruel to them.
Gwen Nelson and Jack Rodney give admirable performances as her parents, and there are competent performances from Alan Howard and Charles Kay.
The Stage, 28th May, 1959.
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