Roots is the second of Arnold Wesker trilogy of plays starting with Chicken Soup with Barely, recently revived at the Royal Court featuring the excellent Sam Spiro and the final play Talking About Jerusalem. Roots is set in Norfolk where Beatie, youngest of a large family returns home for a few weeks while in anticipation of showing off her urbane, intelligent and socialist boyfriend. At the heart of this play is the contrast and clashes of the working class, countryside background of the rest of the family with Beatie’s new found interests and ideology culminating in the seminal monologue at the end.
The production takes a while to get going although there are just enough with the dialogue and intrigue to keep the interest going. It sets the scene and background in the first act with Beatie’s older sister and her husband, then the drama builds with her mother and father in the second act. The drama then comes to a head in the final act where the whole family gather, awaiting the arrival of Ronnie. The production is well designed with a large amount of props, furniture and food which require a lot of choreography and technical set up and is impressive and intriguing to watch. It also serve to drive the play along when there is seemingly not a lot happening in the drama.
The main feature of this production is Jessica Raine as Beatie who is positively radiant on stage and has a stage presence which makes it impossible to take your eyes off her. The portrayal of a young woman with her new found confidence in her voice yet carrying an air of uncertainty and naivety around her family is excellent. Linda Bassett is also very good as the mother but perhaps too similar to other roles she is used to playing. Even at nearly three hours long, the performance itself would be enough to sustain the production but with a great set and excellent play, it is three hours well spent.