Anglo-Jewish Lit

Cameron not sure who Wesker is!

An early sign that Dave was not quite himself came when Jeremy Corbyn upstaged him by paying tribute to the playwright Arnold Wesker who had died earlier that day. Dave is normally well abreast of any celebrity deaths and seldom misses an opportunity to praise “Danny the Police Dog who slightly injured his front paw in the line of duty” but this time he was completely stumped. Arnold who? “Let me make myself absolutely clear,” said Muddy Dave, “I’d also like to pay tribute to… um, er, this playwrighty chappy whoever he was.”



Arnold Wesker Died

Very sad news.

Prolific writer who produced more than 40 plays, as well as books of essays, poetry and short stories was a key British figure in 20th century drama

Arnold Wesker
The dramatist pictured in October 1989. Critics grouped him with other working class writers sometimes referred to as the ‘angry young men’ generation. 



Sir Arnold Wesker, one of the key British figures of 20th century drama and a writer whose work spanned more than five decades, has died. He was 83.

A prolific, often highly political writer who produced more than 40 plays, as well as books of essays, poetry and short stories, his work also included children’s fiction and a first novel, Honey, which was published in 2005.

After first gaining prominence in the 1950s, critics grouped him with other working class writers sometimes referred to as the “angry young men” generation, although Wesker rejected the label. He was later characterised as a leading voice of 1960s “kitchen sink” British drama.

“You’re not a good writer because you come from a working class background and you’re not a good writer because you’ve been through university. You’re a good writer because you’re a good writer and it’s the work that matters, not the labels that surround you.”

Born in 1932 in the East End of London, Wesker was the son of Jewish communists and drew on his upbringing for some of his key works. They included 1958’s acclaimed Chicken Soup With Barley, which juxtaposed the story of a struggling East End Jewish family with their crisis that Stalinism and world events presented to their communist ideals.

The play, the first in a trilogy, was also the subject of one of two major revivals of his works in recent years when it was staged in 2011 at the Royal Court. The other, The Kitchen, was performed at the National Theatre.

Looking back on his childhood during an interview with the Observer in 2011, he recalled it being poor, “but I don’t remember it in terms of suffering”.

Wesker also remembered his parents as being “completely atheist”, though he added: “But they were also – this is difficult for gentiles to understand – fiercely Jewish.”

After winning acclaim for his early trilogy, which was completed by Roots and I’m Talking About Jerusalem, his efforts to spread culture more widely found a focus when he founded the Roundhouse’s first theatre, Centre 42, in 1964. Among his notable later plays was The Merchant, renamed Shylock, in 1976. In later years he lived in Wales, and then Hove in East Sussex.

Despite suffering from Parkinson’s, he continued to write late into his life, publishing his first collection of poetry, All Things Tire of Themselves, in 2008. He received a knighthood in 2006, by which time his plays had been translated into 18 languages and had been performed around the world.

Links to Articles about Chimen Abramsky and The House of 20,000 Books

Halban – UK Publisher
Reviews of this Book
Sasha Abramsky speaking about the book  The House of Twenty Thousand Books:
Sasha’s Articles about his Grandfather:

Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst

Penelope Wilton in Taken at Midnight

My brother Tim and I saw the Haymarket transfer of this play on Thursday night.  Well done play with excellent performances from Wilton and Mark Hutson as mother and son.  Hutson plays the lawyer who put Hitler on the witness stand.  This is the latest in Hayhurst obsessive retelling of this story after a TV play, The Man Who Crossed Hitler and a documentary, Hans Litten vs Adolf Hitler. Kate Kellaway writes in The Observer, “Writing about Nazi Germany well is extraordinarily hard. It needs compassion, balance, lack of sensationalism. Jonathan Church’s first-rate production has all these. And it is an emotional ordeal – as it should be.”

The Observer – Haymarket
The Guardian – Chichester, Minerva Theatre

Tum Balalaika

balalaikaI have been using this blog much.  It is meant to be the informal companion to my Anglo-Jewish Literature Since 1945, I have neglected it.  I am wring my thesis about Anglo- (British)-Jewish Drama and in the process come across all these little things. Today, in the play The Hamlet of Stepney Green by Bernard Kops is a reference to the tune of Tum Balalaika, you can hear it here sung by the Tum Balalaika Klezmer Band from Chicago or with a lot of balalaikas here sung by the Adelaide balalaikas and singers.

It appears in a play that uses Hamlet as a starting pint, but settles him in the East End of London, and the first lines of the song are:

“Shteyt a bokher, un er trakht (also shteyt un trakht) / Trakht un trakht a gantse nakht” which in English is: “A young man stands and thinks (and stands and thinks) / Thinks and thinks the whole night though.” Very Hamletesque!


I am working on a study of Anglo-Jewish drama and in the coming years, as I find some new material about my topic in particular or about Anglo(British)-Jewish Literature in general, I will post it on my website Anglo-Jewish Literature of the Twentieth Century or on this more informal site, J Lit from an Anglo Angle.  There is also a Twitter feed and Facebook page.  I am looking to interact with anyone with an interest in the field.