francois villon—that mad fifteenth century Frenchman—concludes his Brechtian Ballad, Counter-Truths, with the verse:
In a recent paper-back of his complete work (Bantam classic, 4/6, translated by Anthony Bonner with French text vis-a-vis) the third line is helpfully mistranslated—“nor truth outside the theatre”. It is with this idea I want to begin. Life has hit the London stage at last. And with real
Roots tells us the truth about ourselves in the New Left. Dramatically, it is a triangle play. There is us, which is Wesker or you or me. There is Beattie, the girl who has left her working-class agricultural background, and who is that Trade Unionist we might be trying to address or that Labour voter we may be trying to convert. And there is Beattie’s family, the mass, the cause of our moments of despair. And what does Roots tell us? It tells us that we are both to blame—both Them and Us. It tells us more—that, such as things are, we cannot love Her because she is still one of Them. And for all our talk (and I include Wesker as one of Us), when the time comes we are still liable to stand Her up. But it tells us also that there is still hope, for she might become one of the salt of the earth, one of the transformatory minority, one of the leaven that will lift the loaf.
Dramatically, Wesker gets away with murder. Were I not of the New Left I would tell him to rewrite the play so that Ronnie appears in Act One and stands Beattie up in Act Three. Only then would the centrepiece of the Trilogy make sense to my friends not intimately acquainted with Britain. For after all, I should add, Beattie is not exactly waiting for Godot, nor indeed for Lefty. But being of the New Left, I think I know why Wesker-Ronnie did not want to appear in the play. It is because we are still ashamed of ourselves, still unsure of how to appear in that Norfolk set-up. We do not know whether in the long run we shall have stood-up Beattie too. We do not know whether the Revolution Edward Thompson has spoken about has really begun. If it has, we may go on to speak about “Jerusalem”. If it has not, then we may as well have the courage to portray ourselves and show up Ronnie for what he is. If it has, we can forgive Arnold Wesker his technical faults, for he is our Gorki. But woe to the Gorki of the Revolution that is never to come! I do not want to leave Roots without saying something of the love and care with which it is acted and produced. It has grown since its first production, and Joan Plowright has flowered into something that promises more than Vivien Leigh was ever to attain.