Roots by Arnold Wesker

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 23 March 2014
This production was first staged at London's Donmar Warehouse in October 2013.  Director James Macdonald approached Roots as a period piece, the product of a time when rural and urban Britain were light-years apart, both geographically and intellectually, and Beatie Bryant's (Jessica Raine's) time spent in London had quite literally transformed her.  She could no longer tolerate what she perceived as the parochial values of her family, especially her mother (Linda Bassett), whom she accused of lack of curiosity.  Cooped up in her farm in rural Norfolk, with little to do other than care for her husband (Ian Gelder), Beatie's mother did not even have the outlet of the television or radio, enjoyed by their close friends Frank and Pearl Bryant (Carl Prekopp, Emma Stansfield).
As the action unfolded, however, so we came to learn more about Beatie's life.  She was no Eliza Doolittle, transformed into a London sophisticate through association with her boyfriend Ronnie.  On the contrary, we learned that she still shared several of the same shortcomings as her mother - stubbornness, intransigence, an unwillingness to listen.  The time in London seemed to be nothing more than a sham.  However through that realization Beatie began at last to discover her roots - not necessarily her family roots, but her intellectual roots: who she "really" was.  The production ended on an optimistic note - although her family thought she was simply talking for the sake of it, we understood that she had made an important discovery about herself.
Although the play was obviously a period-piece, Macdonald's production showed that the subject matter was still significant today.  Many people of Beatie's age experience similar dilemmas when they leave home and return after a period of time.  I remember feeling much the same when I returned home from university for the first time.  Jessica Raine gave a spirited performance in the title-role, her rapid shifts of mood - from ecstasy to sadness, from enthusiasm to relentless criticism - emphasized the difficulties going on within her mind.  As her mother, Bassett was equally memorable - despite her lack of awareness, she remained keenly aware of the shortcomings of her life in rural Norfolk.
The East Anglian accents in this production were quite simply faultless, conjuring up a realistic yet insular world that might no longer exist, but whose values were readily understandable.