Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Arnold Wesker’s play Roots opened at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on 25 May 1959, before transferring to the Royal Court Theatre and later to the Duke of York’s Theatre. It was directed by John Dexter. Jocelyn Herbert later designed the remaining plays in Wesker’s trilogy, Chicken Soup with Barley and I’m Talking About Jersualem.

Photo of room with window and fireplace in background, table in centre with a wooden chair at either end and an armchair to the right. Above, the roof of the cottage is in shadow
Act 2, ‘Roots’ (1959). Photo: Sandra Lousada.

Jocelyn Herbert recalled that the design was her ‘first attempt at poetic realism for a naturalistic play. I hit on the idea of setting it in the middle of an empty stage and using projections of the countryside. In those days I painted all the projections myself on glass, one for each projector. I was trying to create the feeling of those isolated cottages without actually re-creating them on stage.’ (quoted in Cathy Courtney,  Jocelyn Herbert: A Theatre Workbook, 1993).

Pamela Howard, then an assistant director at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre was astonished by the minimal evocation of the family home in Chicken Soup with Barley: ‘she’d just put a washing line and three chairs on the stage, and we simply couldn’t believe it’.