The Work: Plays

The Wesker Trilogy - Chicken Soup with Barley

1958, (4w 6m)


The play spans twenty years - 1936 to 1956 - in the life of the communist Kahn family: SARAH and HARRY, and their children, ADA and RONNIE.

Beginning with the anti-fascist demonstrations in 1936 in London's East End and ending with the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the play explores the disintegration of political ideology parallel with the disintegration of a family.

It is the son, RONNIE, who is the most deeply affected and turns on his mother who insists on remaining a communist. Her reply ends the play on a note of desperate optimism.


"…All my life I worked with a party that meant glory and freedom and brotherhood. You want me to give it up now? You want me to move to Hendon and forget who I am? If the electrician who comes to mend my fuse blows it instead, so I should stop having electricity? I should cut off my light? Socialism is my light, can you understand that? A way of life. A man can be beautiful. I hate ugly people - I can't bear meanness and fighting and jealousy - I've got to have light. I'm a simple person, Ronnie, and I've got to have light and love."


…confronts us as sanely as the theatre has ever done…a fair, accurate, and intensely exciting play…
Kenneth Tynan, The Observer

The passion of Mr Wesker's theme is matched by the living fire in his writing… its quality is undiminished by the passing years
Bernard Levin, The Times

... there is far more to admire than cavil over, and there is nothing sentimental about Wesker's portrait of the Kahn family that he based at least partly on his own. The souring of political hope is strongly caught. And Sarah's passionate climactic insistence that "if you don’t care, you’ll die" sounded like a moving clarion call even to a crusty old Tory like me.
Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

...There is a tremendous scene in the first act in which Sarah turns on her thieving, work shy husband, ...with uncontrolled fury. Equally stirring is the play's climax, when the young Ronnie, shattered by the sight of the Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest, confronts his mother's unshakeable faith in socialist brotherhood, is precisely because Wesker can understand both sides of the argument that the scene radiates such power.
Michael Billington: The Guardian