Critics enjoy Raine in Roots at Donmar
James MacDonald's production of Roots, Arnold Wesker's 1958 working class classic, opened at the Donmar Warehouse this week. Starring Jessica Raine and Linda Bassett, it runs until 30 November
... it's no less than thrilling to have director James Macdonald revive it so beautifully at the Donmar Warehouse... Raine's meticulous, quivering performance has a beguiling honesty and vulnerability... You enter the Donmar Warehouse to the accompaniment of cooking smells and birdsong, followed by talk in a thick country burr of indigestion, unemployment, a new dress from Swan and Edgar, pop songs, love in the afternoon and family squabbles... There's a potato-peeling Lawrentian realism at work, but also a crepuscular aesthetic beauty in the shadows and half-light of Guy Hoare's exceptional poetic lighting on Hildegard Bechtler's grey, ramshackle cottage, with a practical staircase to one side... Raine's performance, superbly buttressed by Bassett's, is surrounded by others of equal distinction...
Rarely has a kitchen sink featured so heavily in a so-called kitchen-sink drama. One of many appealing features of Arnold Wesker's modern classic Roots (1959)... is its transfixing brand of naturalism...James Macdonald's supremely confident production feels no need to hurry such scenes and is amply the richer for it. Beatie (Call the Midwife star Jessica Raine) is a lively young woman with a socialist boyfriend... Across Raine's face scud fast-moving rainclouds of emotion, passion followed by frustration at the banality of her interaction with her family. She's magnificently matched by Linda Bassett, who can convey more while silently slicing a runner bean than most actors could with a page-long monologue... After a slightly wan first act, the drama gains strength with Bassett's arrival onto Hildegard Bechtler's wooden-beamed range and then builds to a crescendo of quiet but unmistakable impact.
Roots, the central work in Arnold Wesker's 1950s trilogy, refuses to be rushed and keeps you waiting two and half hours for a turning-point. But the cumulative power of the piece is quietly devastating, as is decisively demonstrated now by this loving, meticulous and beautifully acted revival by James Macdonald... Jessica Raine superbly captures both what is maddening and touching in Beatie's proselytising campaign... Macdonald's unhurried, absorbing production is keenly alive to the play's poetic naturalism and to the rhythms of ordinary domestic existence... Linda Bassett is magnificently funny and moving as Mrs Bryant... And Macdonald's splendid ensemble make sure you see the glints of gruff humour and affection in the interactions of this limited and incurious bunch. Highly recommended.
... Wesker uses close domestic focus to examine huge socio-political shifts and crunch-points between ideology and reality... Central to the play then is the texture of their daily lives and James Macdonald's superb production honours this...The play unfolds against the rhythm of the kitchen...It tests the patience a little, but... this is a play that accumulates depth and potency and Macdonald's lovingly observant staging reminds us there is comfort too in routine... At the centre of a fine ensemble, Jessica Raine makes a lovely, mercurial Beatie – by turns affectionate and exasperated, inspiring and condescending – and Linda Bassett is tremendously moving as Beatie's mother. Tired, doughty and trapped by drudgery, she is the counterpoint to the impassioned matriarch in Chicken Soup. If they met they would probably get on: that is the poignant irony of this wise play.
... The strength of this unsentimental, unshowy production is in the way it gives in to the rhythms of domestic life... There are silences into which you could fall and never be seen again. Potatoes take a lifetime to peel; you look at the spread laid on for the arrival of Beatie's boyfriend, Ronnie, from London and marvel at the time and effort involved in producing it. The evening never hurries and it doesn't shirk the harshness of these people's lives, impoverished in so many ways... It is an uncompromising evening, leavened and layered by a marvel of a performance from Linda Bassett as the mother who is baffled by her daughter and yet senses that she too is a prisoner, chained to a life and kitchen sink from which there is no escape.