WESKER, ARNOLD (1932– ), English playwright. Born of immigrant Yiddish-speaking parents (the father was a tailor) in London's East End, Wesker held various jobs after he left school, including kitchen porter and pastry cook. These laid the foundations of his early plays, which have an autobiographical content. The Kitchen (1960), for example, is at once a literal representation of life behind the scenes in a restaurant and an allegory of the struggle, competition, and near-slavery of the social world. Wesker is best known for the trilogy of plays entitled Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots, and I'm Talking about Jerusalem (1959–60). These constitute an ambitious attempt to probe the symptoms of a sick society. Chicken Soup with Barley deals with Jewish society in the East End of London during the 1930s and 1940s; it shows the idealistic socialism, which was the main barricade against Sir Oswald Mosley's fascist movement, giving way to an easy, postwar conformity. Roots represents these same decadent values subsisting in a country community. In I'm Talking About Jerusalem, Wesker shows a young couple endeavoring to establish an ideal community in the country in the immediate postwar period of 1946. These plays are written in realistic prose with a poetic undercurrent. Though partly inspired by the disillusionment of his time, Wesker also exhibits a visionary quality and a desire for reform and renewal.
In Chips with Everything (1962), apparently based upon Wesker's own period of national service in the Royal Air Force, the characters are shallow stereotypes, the officers tyrants and decadents, the men simple philistines or easily led slaves. In the 1960s a great deal of Wesker's energy went into forming and administering "Centre 42." This organization, named after a Trade Union Congress resolution supporting the arts, was intended to sponsor festivals and eventually to institute its own cultural program. Its cultural basis at the beginning rested solidly on Wesker's own plays, which took an unashamedly propagandist turn in Their Very Own and Golden City (1966). A late play is Denial (2000).
Six Sundays in January has some Jewish interest. The title is that of the first story in the volume and was published in the Jewish Quarterly in 1958 and in Modern Jewish Stories in 1963. Wesker's writings have been translated into 17 languages. With Harold *Pinter, he is probably the best-known contemporary Anglo-Jewish playwright. He has written an autobiography, As Much As I Dare (1994).
G. Leeming and S. Trussler, The Plays of Arnold Wesker: An Assessment (1972). add. bibliography: R.W. Dornan, Arnold Wesker Revisited (1995); idem. (ed.), Arnold Wesker: A Casebook (1998); G. Leeming, Arnold Wesker – The Playwright (1982); R. Wilcher, Understanding Arnold Wesker (1991).
[Philip D. Hobsbaum]
WESKER, Arnold. British, b. 1932. Genres: Novellas/Short stories, Young adult fiction, Plays/Screenplays, Autobiography/Memoirs, Essays. Career: Director, Centre 42: Centre for the Arts, London, 1961-70; Chairman, British Section, 1978-85, and President, Playwrights Permanent Committee, 1980- 85, International Theatre Institute. Publications: VOLUMES OF PLAYS: Vol. 1: Chicken Soup with Barley, 1958; Roots, 1959; I'm Talking about Jerusalem, 1960; Vol. 2: The Kitchen, 1961; The Four Seasons, 1965; Their Very Own Golden City, 1966; Vol. 3: Chips with Everything, 1962; The Friends, 1970; The Old Ones, 1972; Love Letters on Blue Paper, 1976; Vol. 4: The Journalists, 1972; The Wedding Feast, 1974; Shylock, 1976; Vol. 5: Yardsale, Whatever Happened to Betty Lemon?, 1986; Four Portraits of Mothers, 1982; The Mistress, 1988; Annie Wobbler, 1982; Vol. 6: One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round, 1978; Caritas, 1980; When God Wanted a Son, 1986; Lady Othello, 1987; Men Die Women Survive (previously entitled Three Women Talking), 1980; Bluey, 1984; Vol. 7: Badenheim 1939, 1987; Boerhtel's Hill, 1988; Letter to a Daughter, 1990; Blood Libel, 1991; Wild Spring, 1992. OTHER PLAYS: Cinders, 1983; Shoe Shine & Little Old Lady, 1987; Sullied Hand, 1981; The Confession, 1993; Circles of Perception, 1996; Break, My Heart, 1997; Groupie, 2001; Longitude, 2002; Grief (libretto), 2002. FILMS: The Wesker Trilogy, 1979; Lady Othello, 1980; Homage to Catalonia, 1990-91; Maudie, 1995. TELEVISION PLAYS: Breakfast, 1981; Thieves in the Night (adaption), 1984-85; Barabbas, 2000. STORIES: Six Sundays in January, 1971; Love Letters on Blue Paper, 1974; Said the Old Man to the Young Man, 1978; The King's Daughters, 1998. OTHER: Fears of Fragmentation (essays), 1971; Say Goodbye You May Never See Them Again, 1974; Words-As Definitions of Experience (essay), 1976; Journey into Journalism, 1976; Fatlips (juvenile), 1978; Distinctions (essays), 1985; As Much as I Dare (autobiography), 1994; The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel, 1997. Address: Hay on Wye, Hereford HR3 5RJ, England. Online address: [email protected]; www.arnoldwesker.com