• Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Wednesday, October 9, 2013
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    In a programme note for the Donmar Warehouse's new production of Roots, David Edgar comments, "First of all, a spoiler alert: it's impossible to talk about the meaning or importance of Arnold Wesker's Roots without revealing the coup de theatre with which it ends." But he first and most important note from me is to advise you not to read the programme note before you see the play, but also to say that I don't intend to reveal it here, either.

    In a play that builds with a haunting, slowly accumulating sense of detail, it is true that the play's dramatic action is driven towards that climax. But there's a wealth of character-based dramas to savour along the way in this dour but ultimately devastating play.

    All of its tender textures are spellbindingly caught in director James Macdonald's deliberately low-key studio production. It is only in a theatre as intimate as the Donmar that such bold choices can be made like the one to play the first act under extremely subdued lighting by Guy Hoare.

    The play -- originally premiered in 1959 as the middle part of a trilogy of plays that also comprised Chicken Soup with Barley (itself beautifully revived at the Royal Court in 2011) and I'm Talking About Jerusalem -- is a talky but evocative slice of family life, centering on a home visit by 22-year-old Beatie Bryant from London to her Norfolk family, where her father is a farm labourer. Beatie has discovered a new life, romance and even sex in London, where she has fallen in love with Ronnie, a fervent Jewish socialist whose ideas she has completely absorbed.

    She is played by the captivatingly graceful and beautiful Jessica Raine in a performance that glows both inside and out. Best known now for TV's Call the Midwife, she's seen here in another pitch-perfect period role but has previously earned her stripes in plays at the National, Young Vic and Lyric Hammersmith; she's a huge star in the making.

    But though it is difficult to take one's eyes off her, the Donmar production is blessed with a fine ensemble cast that also includes detailed, devastating work from Linda Bassett and Ian Gelder as her parents, and a performance of brooding brilliance from Michael Jibson as her brother-in-law.


    "The strength of this unsentimental, unshowy production is in the way it gives in to the rhythms of domestic life. "
    Lyn Gardner for The Guardian

    "Loving, meticulous and beautifully acted revival."
    Paul Taylor for The Independent

    "Supremely confident production ."
    Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard

    "Superb production."
    Sarah Hemming for The Financial Times

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    Independent - Guardian

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