Monday, 31 March 2014


I listened twice to this radio broadcast of Arnold Wesker's 1958 play because I thought it was simply immaculate. This was the Donmar Warehouse production which recently garnered great reviews, and it was not hard to see why: Jessica Raines as Beatie Bryant gives a deeply affecting performance. It was acting as it should be, at any rate for most modern work: you simply forget it's an actress and become absolutely involved with the character and her world. Here is a young woman, exasperated with her rural Norfolk family, in love with a young socialist intellectual, yet not as sure of herself as she would like to be. We sympathise with her while wincing at her naivety. The moment where she hurts her brother's feelings with ill-judged remarks about the territorials, his pride and joy, will have hit the soft spot of all of us who have even momentarily elevated sounding clever above regard for the feelings of those around us. Linda Bassett was equally commanding as Linda the mother, dense in an academic sense yet sharp as a pin;  the scene where Beatie tries to show Linda classical music isn't 'squit' was both funny and very touching. And the confrontation between mother and daughter, the concluding rejection and ensuing self-discovery were simply magical. Plays are so simple, really: if you are drawn in and listening to every word being said, and caring about what happens, then the drama has worked. What writing, too! Wesker apparently based this on his own marriage, yet the play is never a platform for a socialist sermon: rather the shortcomings of the boyfriend Ronnie become apparent every time Beatie praises him, and the gap between left-wing intellectualism and the actual world of the working people - an issue for those today who fondly claim their paper in an academic journal is a valuable 'intervention' on behalf of the downtrodden - is given a moving examination here. At the end of the play, Beatie wonders whether the clever poets and composers could care less about the existence of folk like her family. Give them squit and leave culture to them who knows. It's surely a moment of self-interrogation by Wesker, and a moment in which idea and emotional truth are fused. And the dialect and accent of Norfolk, which I'll take on trust as accurate, were an added pleasure.  The fact that we can get drama of this quality from the radio for free still seems too good to be true, a kind of guilty secret.

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