Educated Rita's older sister learns to speak for herself
Wednesday 25 March 1998
The unseen Ronnie has been living in London for three years with Beatie Bryant, whom he has taught to read the Guardian and pumped full of progress ideas she has not truly assimilated. Samantha Spiro splendidly projects the naive missionary ardour with which Beatie returns for a visit to her rural, working-class, family home in Norfolk. Tending to stand on chairs when she does so, she spouts Ronnie's thoughts at her relations, and it is possible that there is two knowingly subversive a note in Ms Spiros' gesticulating delivery of these pronouncements. The audience should begin to deduce that Ronnie is a bit of a pain (though not for the same reasons that Beatie's folks do): Beatie herself should be the largely unconscious agent of this.
Bovine, submissive, rejecting all attempts at high culture as "squit", the family are spectacularly in fertile ground for Ronnie's proxy seeds of wisdom. But Retallack, who is a master at coaxing superb ensemble playing from a company, does not fall
into the trap of presenting them from Beatie's point of view or from imaging that that point of view is inflexible. The actors here are excellent: You really feel that these people have a lifetime of shared memories, subterranean veins of humour and
affection running through the block of their stupidity. Their existence may be mind-numbing, incurious and repetitive but we see that there are saving graces.
Sally Mates is superb as the mother: the sad, doomed attempts to establish some intimacy with her runaway daughter and then the ugly triumphalism - the product of years of being cooped up and condescending to - when Ronnie writes to break off with Beatie. Ms Mates induces audience empathy with this woman, even as you deplore her tactics.
A play about the awakening of an independent female spirit, Roots has echoes of Ibsen's A Doll's House, in the defiant solo dance at the end of Act One, and pre-echoes of Educating Rita, in the resilient humour and inquisitiveness of its heroine.
Retallack stages the moment at the end when the beleaguered Beatie suddenly stops parroting Ronnie and finds her own voice ("I'm beginning... I'm beginning!) in a manner that is wonderfully true to its mix of realism and romanticism. A screen drops
between Beatie and her family at the aborted tea party, leaving her alone in a vast black and white projection of lonely Norfolk landscape, stretches flat and bare under a lowering sky. A new, difficult start and an image that is rightly both embarrassing and uplifting, gauche and glorious.
Life & Style blogs
Britain's kitchens so filthy that they present a health risk, says new research
Fashion Revolution Day: wear your clothes inside out and ask #whomademyclothes to support worker welfare
The world's first edible garden of cake
How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
KickassTorrents down: new Isle of Man domain taken offline just hours after launch
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
- 1 Bruce Jenner's 'Interview of the year': Suicidal thoughts, rejection by family members and new wardrobe
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...
Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...
£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...