'Chicken Soup' for the C21 soul
The Royal Court is staging a wonderful production of Arnold Wesker's breakthrough play, 'Chicken Soup with Barley' - first performed there in 1958.
The set, the production, the performances - particularly of Samantha Spiro as the Communist matriarch Sarah Kahn (purportedly based on the author's activist aunt, Sara) - are spellbinding. It's the story, spread over twenty years, of the dissolution of a Jewish East End family, and the disillusion with the communism that they once shared. And the sharpness of the dialogue, often comic, is chicken soup for my soul.
The programme was - I've never come across this before - the play script. Remarkably good value for £3.
The play opens on October 4th 1936, the day of the 'battle' of Cable Street when communists and left-wingers stopped Mosley's fascists marching through London's then largely Jewish East End. The 75th anniversary of that landmark event will be marked later this year.
I hadn't quite appreciated how much political song there is in the opening scenes of 'Chicken Soup with Barley'. The 'Internationale' sung off stage. The household all signing Edward Carpenter's 'England Arise' - once the great English socialist anthem, but now distinctly obscure, so much so that I don't think I'd heard it sung in the flesh before. And there was another song I can't find anything about, with the chorus line of: 'For you are a worker too' - I can see why that didn't survive beyond the 1930s!
I love this play. I have tickets for this production in July and am really looking forward to it. It's also very good news that Wesker is coming back into fashion. I met him once in 1986 and he was very gloomy about the state of both the arts and politics. This is such a welcome revival and,I hope, a sign of more good things to come. (For example, I have always wanted to see Robert Shaw's Cato Street again after seeing it once as a teenager with Vanessa Redgrave in 1971.)
Absolutely loved this production which I saw on Friday. The last time I saw it was in the 1970s and it means so much more to me now. I also recognised that other song you refer to. It's by Bertolt Brecht and it's called the Song of the United Front (1936):
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