The play is part of a trilogy that includes Roots and I'm Talking About Jerusalem, first performed in its entirety at the Royal Court in 1960. It is described in press materials as a "state-of-the-nation play capturing the collapse of an ideology alongside the disintegration of a family." The kettle boils in 1936 as the fascists are marching. Tea is brewed in 1946, with disillusion in the air at the end of the war. Twenty years on, in 1956, as rumors spread of Hungarian revolution, the cup is empty. Sarah Khan, an East End Jewish mother, is a feisty political fighter and a staunch communist. Battling against the State and her shirking husband she desperately tries to keep her family together.
In a press statement, Cooke commented, "Bringing Arnold Wesker's play back to the Royal Court after 50 years is an exciting prospect. Chicken Soup with Barley is an epic play that spans twenty years in the life of an East End Jewish family. It vividly captures a loss of political idealism, a feeling which chimes with our own confused times. I’m delighted that Samantha Spiro, who I’ve admired for many years, will be playing the pivotal role of the matriarch Sarah Khan."
Spiro was most recently seen on the London stage in an Olivier Award-winning performance as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park. She last appeared at the Royal Court in The Family Plays; other theatre credits include Twelfth Night (Donmar Warehouse), Funny Girl at Chichester's Minerva Theatre and playing Barbara Windsor in Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick at the National Theatre, later reprising the role in the TV play "Cor, Blimey!" She recently won a 2011 Comedy Award in the Best Female Comedy Breakthrough category for her part in the TV sitcom "Grandma’s House" on BBC 1.
Cooke is currently represented in the West End by the transfer of his Royal Court production of Clybourne Park to Wyndham's Theatre, and he is due to make his National Theatre directing debut in November with a new production of The Comedy of Errors. Other credits at the Royal Court include Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever, Seven Jewish Children, Wig Out!, Now or Later, Rhinoceros and two plays in Mark Ravenhill’s epic play cycle Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. For the RSC, he has directed and adapted Arabian Nights and Noughts and Crosses, and won the Olivier Award for Best Director for his RSC production of The Crucible that transferred from Stratford-upon-Avon to the West End's Gielgud Theatre.
In addition to the so-called Wesker Trilogy at the Royal Court of Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots and I'm Talking About Jerusalem, Arnold Wesker has also written The Kitche, Chips with Everything, Their Very Own, Golden City and The Old Ones for the Royal Court. More recently his plays have included Longitude at Greenwich Theatre, Denial at Bristol Old Vic and Break My Heart at Cardiff's Sherman Theatre. His recent books include "Wesker on Theatre," "Wesker's Monologues," "Wesker's Love Plays," "Wesker's Political Plays" and "Wesker's Social Plays" (all published by Oberon books). Tickets are currently on sale to friends and members of the Royal Court; they go on general sale to the public Feb. 4. To book tickets, contact the box office on 020 7565 5000, or visit www.royalcourttheatre.com.