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As the playwright Arnold Wesker celebrates his 80th birthday Matthew Sweet looks back with the author of ground-breaking plays 'Roots', 'Chicken Soup with Barley' and 'Shylock' at his life and career.
In 'Wesker at 80' Matthew Sweet talks to Wesker, the theatre critic Michael Billington, Margaret Drabble, the actress Nichola McAuliffe and to the directors Dominic Cooke and Michael Kustow.
The author of 42 plays has enjoyed a revival of his work over the last year with productions of 'The Kitchen' and 'Chicken Soup with Barley' but for many years he felt himself to be neglected by the British theatrical establishment. His plays were performed around the world and translated into seventeen languages but were rarely seen in his own country. In 1976 'Shylock', his reworking of 'The Merchant of Venice' closed on Broadway before the opening night when its star, Zero Mostel, died suddenly. And four years earlier, in 1972, Wesker sued the RSC for refusing to stage 'The Journalists', a play they had commissioned and which Wesker had researched at the Sunday Times. For the first time the RSC has opened their archives to allow Matthew Sweet to discover what was happening in the company at the time and why the actors refused to perform the play.
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