Let There be Love - Weapons of Happiness - Roots - The Living Unknown Soldier - Shadow Language
Let There Be Love
Until 16 February
This new play by Kwame Kwei-Armagh - author of Elmina's Kitchen, Fix Up and Statement of Regret - rests on a brilliant basic plot line: a new-wave immigrant from Poland is sent to be a home help for an embittered Jamaican pensioner (played by the wonderful Joseph Marcell of TV's Desmond's). The ironies in this set-up are a joy to watch and, despite the somewhat mawkish end, you leave having understood just a bit more about the need to belong whether to a family, a culture or a nation.
Weapons of Happiness
Earl's Court, London
Until 23 February
Weapons of Happiness was the first play to be performed at the Lyttelton Theatre space at the National Theatre in 1976 and won the Evening Standard Best Play award. It is now revived in the wonderfully intimate 50-seater top floor of the Finborough Pub, which has delivered clever political revivals and rediscoveries for at least a couple of years now. So, this probably means it'll be better than the first time!
This is an epic piece from Howard Brenton (Paul, The Romans in Britain and Pravda) set in 1976 with the miners on strike, Thatcher newly elected Tory leader and talk of revolution in the streets. It's guaranteed to get you arguing about Stalinism in the pub afterwards!
Manchester Royal Exchange
Until 1 March
An Arnold Wesker classic: naturalistic, humane, campaigning and convinced that people deserve better than they get. A working class Jew born in 1932 in London's East End, Wesker has the reputation of a social realist and was a founder member of the New Wave of British theatre of the late 1950s. He played a leading role in the Committee of 100's demonstrations against the use of nuclear weapons and, together with Bertrand Russell and others, was sentenced to a month in prison. In Roots, through the character of Beatie Bryant who waits for her boyfriend to save her from her rural roots and whisk her away to a better life, Wesker argues that the working classes should not be satisfied with mass culture - "the slop singers and pop writers" - but deserve access to high art.
By founding Centre 42 in 1961 and administering it from the Roundhouse in London, Wesker set about trying to change this situation directly but (unsurprisingly) never received the support he expected from the trade unions, closing it down in 1970.
The Living Unknown Soldier
Until 15 March
Based on Le Soldat Inconnu Vivant by Jean-Yves Le Naour this is the true story of a soldier found in France in 1918 wandering a station platform with no knowledge of his identity or the country he has been defending. As news spreads, families flock to look at him hoping to find missing fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.
The Arcola is renowned for gripping intelligent drama and this promises to tackle issues around the fall-out of war as well as the thin line between memory and imagination. What's more the production company, Simply 8, is using a hydrogen fuel cell to power the production and trying to pioneer ecologically sustainable production processes - so take a torch, just in case.
20 February to 15 March
This is a completely new play so I am recommending it because I like the sound of it and because Theatre 503 has been consistently brave over the last year with some riveting new plays about taboo subjects such as paedophilia and reality TV intruding on death.
This is the story of an American woman, who has never left Nashville, suddenly going off to Turkey to search for a deported Kurdish man who has disappeared. I believe them when they say it is "darkly comic" and I am encouraged by the FT's comment on the playwright Kelly Stuart - "Stuart's funny, demonic writing is all too rare on the British stage" - give it a whirl!