Sir Arnold Wesker, who has died at the age of 83, first came to prominence in the late 1950s as one of the playwrights dubbed ‘Angry Young Men’, though he later rejected this label. I would say advisedly so, for his famous trilogy of plays drawing on his background in the Jewish East End and upbringing in a family with a strong Communist identity, introduced one of the most memorable positive heroines of post-war literature. Beatie Bryant, the Norfolk-born heroine of the middle play in the trilogy, Roots (the first being Chicken Soup with Barley, and the last is I’m Talking About Jerusalem).
I was lucky enough to meet Sir Arnold when Roots was wonderfully revived at the Donmar Warehouse in 2013 and I was invited to meet this great, delightful and erudite man at the Brighton home he shared with his beloved wife, the supremely resourceful and devoted Dusty, on whom the radiant Beatie was modelled. I say invited, because the hugely hospitable Dusty made what she called “a light lunch”, to which my husband Steve was also invited and it was truly memorable – both for Dusty’s cooking and for the conversation over lunch. And that’s on top of what I was privileged to record for JR OutLoud with Arnold while lunch was cooking, when he spoke at length about the inspiration for Roots and much more about his life and work.
Arnold was still supremely articulate despite the Parkinson’s Disease that dogged his later years. I had also had the pleasure of speaking to him on the phone some years before about Shylock, his take on The Merchant of Venice, in which Shylock and the Merchant of Venice are close and supportive friends and the pound of flesh the result of a nonsensical bond, genuinely made as a gesture to the draconian Venetian authorities, that goes horribly wrong. But meeting him in person and being welcomed into their home by this wonderfully complementary pair will always be a very special memory for me. My heart goes out to Dusty and I am sure all readers will join with me in wishing her long life.
By Judi Herman
Listen to Sir Arnold Wesker discuss his life and works in 2013 on JR OutLoud.
© Johan Persson
It’s not by accident that the title of this review recalls Yeats’ poem Easter 1916, so often quoted in this centenary year of the Easter Uprising in Ireland. Lorraine Hansberry was inspired to become a dramatist by seeing a rehearsal of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock at university. And she saw parallels in the struggle for Irish independence with the struggles for equality of both African Americans and the nations in Africa under white rule.
In Les Blancs (The Whites), Lorraine Hansberry was notably the first African-American dramatist to explore the African search for freedom from European colonization. The first drafts of Les Blancs came soon after the success of her landmark play, A Raisin in the Sun in 1960. Although at the beginning of 1965, she was dead from pancreatic cancer, aged 34, she left several drafts of the play. Its title is an answer to Jean Genet’s play The Blacks: A Clown Show, a ritual performance of black resentments against the white oppressor. She saw Genet’s absurdism as escapist, when realism was what was required. Her own story of being black and female in America, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, like Les Blancs, came to the stage thanks to her literary editor and former husband, Jewish publisher, songwriter and political activist Robert Nemiroff. Hansberry’s death inspired Nina Simone to write her famous song in her memory using the poignant title of her autobiography.
Hansberry entrusted Les Blancs, the work she was redrafting in hospital during her last illness, to Nemiroff to nurse into production. He continued to make further drafts based on notes and their conversations and gathered all the drafts into a production text so that it premiered in New York in 1970. Nemiroff kept polishing the script, publishing a revised version in 1983. He died in 1991 and his stepdaughter Joi Gresham, Director and Trustee of the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust, collaborated with dramaturg Drew Lichtenberg and director Yael Farber on the text of this National Theatre production.
An audio tour of the London Jewish Museum’s new exhibition, Moses, Mods and Mr Fish: The Menswear Revolution, charting the emergence of the modern male wardrobe. Join Judi Herman on an exclusive journey guided by curator Elizabeth Selby from the tailoring workshops of the mid-19th century to the boutique revolution and mod culture of the Swinging ‘60s. The exhibition tells the story through the huge number of Jewish companies at the forefront of the major developments and changes in the design, manufacturing and retail of men’s clothing from the mid-19th to late-20th century. Among the highlights are the clothes themselves – including the brown suede jacket worn by John Lennon during the recording of The Beatles’ 1963 album, With the Beatles. Judi rounds off her visit by sharing a rather special early ad for Moses and Son Menswear.
Moses, Mods and Mr Fish: The Menswear Revolution runs until 19 June at Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert St, NW1 7NB; 020 7284 7384. www.jewishmuseum.org.uk