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.”
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
Obituary from the Guardian Ben Quinn Tuesday 12 April 2016 18.24 EDT
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.
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.
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In my family, we have a ritual. (Tradition!) After a particularly wonderful Shabbat or holiday dinner, we channel my great-grandmother Pearl Gottler and chant in unison, “Ach, I’m stoffed. I’m bloated. I couldn’t eat another bite.”
That’s what reading “Wonder of Wonders” is like. It is as rich and dense as a chocolate babka. Delicious, yes, but so crammed with tasty layers you have to pace yourself. You appreciate the gazillion buttery striations while wondering if there had to be quite so many of them.
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.”