Chicken Soup with Barley by Arnold Wesker – Royal Court Theatre – Review

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They do a brilliant cappuccino at the Royal Court

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this play, the Royal Court is re-staging it. I read it last year for college and enjoyed it, and so persuaded a group of us from college to go and see it last night.

Firstly a brief review of the Royal Court’s restaurant, it’s fab! Helpful staff, good food, and wine, made for a wonderful start to the evening. It was my first time using their restaurant, but I’ll certainly eat and meet there before a play again.

So often on seeing a play that I’ve previously read, seeing it then put on stage can either shatter the image I’ve created, or enhance it. As this is a naturalistic play, the setting and staging came as no surprise, but as ever the wonderful designers and technicians at the Royal Court worked their magic and created perfect recreations of the 30’s/40’s and 50’s.

Danny Webb as Harry Khan, "keeping the red flag flying"

The acting was superb, Danny Webb’s, Harry Khan was brilliant, especially his acting after Harry has had his strokes. Likewise Samantha Spiro gave a very subtle characterisation of Sarah Kahn, I thought her way of showing Sarah age over the acts was brilliant, just very small and miniscule changes to the characterisation, but they added and helped to see that whilst her ageing was nowhere near as dramatic as Harry’s she still was ageing as was her ideology.

As a play how does it stand up in the 21st century? It certainly feels like a period play now, the world it reflects and refers to is a thing of the past, the darker side of the communist movement in the first half of the 20th century is well documented, and the collapse of communism worldwide, makes this almost a quaint play, showing the ideals of this family in the 1930’s. It shows how people become disillusioned with politics, and as they grow older change the idealism of their youth. Yet it did not seem contemporary. Some of its themes were, but this play I feel is now a museum piece, important at the time and worthy of revival for its 50th anniversary as it’s vital we appreciate the plays of the past, but as for having something to say for today, I’m not so sure.

It’s made me want to re-read the other two plays that follow this (Roots and I’m Talking About Jerusalem), to see if those too have the same effect, it will be interesting to see if these are revived soon for their anniversaries.

It’s definitely worth seeing, it’s well acted, directed and it is a well written play. It is an important part of the British theatre canon (and on the reading list for many theatre schools), but for me (and a couple of the others that saw it with me), it didn’t seem to connect thematically with us, I can quite put my finger on why, perhaps with a bit more mulling it over, I’ll find out why.

Samantha Spiro, Tom Rosenthal, Jenny Augen and Danny Webb

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3 thoughts on “Chicken Soup with Barley by Arnold Wesker – Royal Court Theatre – Review

  1. Totally agree with your views on the acting. Thought Tom Rosenthal was also excellent. Loved the set and costumes. It was a good play to see. Set even had a ceiling!

  2. Pingback: The Witness by Vivienne Franzmann – Royal Court Theatre – Review | Theatre Thoughts Blog

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