Sad news: Arnold Wesker has died

I am grieving for my friend, the playwright Arnold Wesker, who lit up British theatre from the late 1950s and made a contribution to many other art forms.

I got to know Arnold 25 years ago when he wrote an opera, Caritas, with the composer Robert Saxton, about a girl who was bricked up into a church wall. The opera flopped, but Arnold and I bonded. He was witty, genuine and curious about everything, especially music of which he felt deprived. The works of his later years lacked immediate success but he bore adversity with dignity. His time will come.

Sir Arnold Wesker, British dramatist known for his contributions to kitchen sink drama. b.1932

Arnold, rest his soul, was 83. He had been suffering from Parkinsons Disease.

After Pinter and Osborne, he was the last of the Angry Young Men.

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  • A seminal playwright of his era. His masterpiece, I would say, was The Kitchen. A powerful force in British theatre – there is no-one quite like him now.

  • He wrote some plays that will be performed or at least read forever. RIP.

    David Storey is still alive: surely he qualified? But when he goes, he really will be the last of that wonderful if amorphous group.

    • Oh yes, Storey has done some good work 🙂 But in a different kind of field, it seems to me. Wesker always remained rooted in his own mileu – and when he became successful later he didn’t allow success to change his ideas. No-one else left today is still writing with that kind of punch.

      • I think Storey was one of the original “angries” with work like This Sporting Life and other collaborations with Anderson. He did move on, as did others, notably Keith Waterhouse — others who moved on tended to fade into obscurity (Braine, Wain, etc.). Colin Wilson just got weird.

        Wesker was definitely an AYM with his kitchen sink trilogy, and those plays will be immortal as far as I am concerned. But he did move, too — what he always remained was Jewish. His most successful work in later years was his version of Shylock. He was, after all, knighted. He may have left the East End. But he was Jewish through and through — and what an eye-opening experience that was for the London stage in the 50s!

        • Yes, I agree about that…. yet strangely I find that Steven Berkoff’s work – which comes out of exactly the same tradition of East-End Jewish working-class background – has somehow remained more visible and potent than Wesker’s. This is a pity, because Wesker’s plays have a lot to say that is still very relevant… perhaps we simply no longer wish to hear it? 🙁

          I skim through the repertoires of London theatres – and it’s froth or piffle that dominates the West End. Serious plays are shunted off into the Off-West-End, or even the Off-Off-West-End venues… where tiny auditoriums and penny-ha’penny budgets make them a difficult evening to spend in the theatre 🙁

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