Chicken Soup with Barley by Arnold Wesker

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 20 May 2012
This production first saw the light of day at the Royal Court Theatre in June 2011, where it was described by Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph as one of "astonishing vitality, detail and emotional depth."
The action follows the Kahn family – dominated by the matriarchal Sarah (Samantha Spiro), who proffers food, tea, love and passionate faith in socialism. The action spans two decades, from the demonstrations against Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in 1936, to the moment when the Soviets occupied Hungary in 1956, to the dismay of many on the left. Chicken Soup with Barley combines the personal and the political; and how people's beliefs are often dependent on external circumstances.

There is nothing sentimental about Wesker’s portrait of the Kahn family, based partly on his own East End origins. Sarah's exclamation that: "if you don’t care, you’ll die," sounded like a moving clarion call to anyone with any passionate convictions.

Tonally speaking, Dominic Cooke's production (restaged for radio by Simon Godwin) bore strong resemblances to Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars, broadcast late last year in the Drama on 3 slot. The characters were all passionately committed to their politics, expressing their views often vehemently, interspersing their dialogue with jigs or political songs ("The Red Flag"). However their passion tended to be somewhat overwhelming: I yearned for more aural light and shade, for scenes of calm to provide respite from the incessant proselytizing. I do not doubt the sincerity of Wesker's purpose; but I have to admit that the radio version of his play proved a disappointment.