Chicken Soup with Barley

Monday, July 18, 2011

Last Thursday I was treated to a night at the theatre. We went to see Chicken Soup with Barley the rejuvenated 1950's play by Arnold Wesker. Focusing on a Jewish family and spanning 20 years from 1936 to 1956, this extraordinary play blurs the lines between realism and idealism. Sarah Kahn is an East End Jewish mother, fighting to protect her family from the Mosley's fascists marching outside her flat. Sarah is a staunch supporter of Communist ideals and whilst her family might be on her side, their beliefs don't appear to have the same sticking power. Or at least, they have grey areas, whereas she only sees in black and white.
Twenty years on and Sarah is still fighting the battle, whilst others have drifted to the suburbs, she is still attending meetings, and making her voice heard. Samantha Spiro gave an excellent performance as the politically driven mother of two, however for me, it was Danny Webb, who plays her husband Harry Kahn, that really stole the show.

Whilst Samantha performed monologues to the sold-out audience, it was Danny that I was watching. Throughout the 20 year span, Harry Kahn encounters two strokes. To begin with, I was not really aware of his stage presence as Sarah held my attention as she proclaimed her commitment to the Communist party. However, as the silences became more weighted, and Harry's posture became more afflicted, I became absorbed by his every move. His speech deteriorated and his physical presence was painful to watch, which made it all the more powerful. Not only was it tragic to watch a man slide into a decline, but it added to my appreciation for Sarah as she carried on with her duties and tried to hold her ever-disjointed family together.

A brilliant performance by both leads -  made even better by being in such an intimate theatre. Although words are obviously important to a play, sometimes silences can hold even more weight. It is at these times when you can really appreciate the power of a frown or a smile, and being that much closer to the actors made all the difference.

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