Arnold Wesker (Book)

Fragments and Visions

This new collection redefines Wesker’s place within theatre culture and questions the canonical boundaries associated with his work. Re-evaluating his legacy with new archival material, it explores his eclectic aesthetic range as well as his unerring concern for the human condition: a lasting ‘vision’ from hopeful socialists in the 1950s–60s. 18 illus.

Category: Performing Arts


This new collection will add significantly to the body of scholarship on this important dramatist. This is the first study of the whole body of Wesker’s work, and will create new interest in this partly forgotten key figure in post-war British theatre.

A new study of Wesker’s work is overdue. The editors are recognized scholars in the field with a track record of publication on British theatre.  An impressive list of contributors comprises important scholars of post-war theatre – including John Bull and Chris Megson – alongside practitioners such as Edward Bond and Pamela Howard, who bring professional insights to bear.

Arnold Wesker was hailed in the press as ‘one of the great overlooked’ of British drama when he died in April 2016. Despite his pivotal engagement with the cultural politics of 1960s Britain and his international career, only a fraction of Wesker’s dramatic output tends to be studied. He is still remembered and discussed as the author of The Trilogy, three plays staged between 1958–60 that fail to reflect the daring aesthetics of his later work, thereby perpetuating an incorrect image of a naturalist playwright.

This important new book aims to remedy the recent critical neglect of the dramatist, building on existing scholarship and introducing new insights and perspectives. It examines the whole body of Wesker’s work for the first time, including some of his non-dramatic work, and considers it from a variety of perspectives. These include Wesker’s reception in Europe, his Jewishness and his attitude to politics and to community. Significant use is made of material from the Arnold Wesker archive, held by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, USA.

It includes chapters on Wesker’s representation of, and attitude towards, women, his relationship with his Jewish origins and identity, and his role in establishing Centre 42 following his imprisonment for participation in the Aldermaston March in 1959. Centre 42 was initially a touring festival aimed at devolving art and culture from London to the other working class towns of Britain, and arose from Resolution 42 of the 1960 Trades Union Congress, which concerned the importance of arts in the community.

It will be of most interest to academics and scholars of post-war British theatre, and to those teaching theatre and drama. It is accessible for a student readership at all undergraduate levels, as well as postgraduates. It has potential for textbook and reading list use.

Wesker’s significance in British theatre history of the 1950s and 1960s means that the book may find readers amongst the informed general public.

Anne Etienne is a lecturer in modern and contemporary drama at University College Cork. Her research is concerned with theatre censorship, contemporary Irish theatre and Arnold Wesker.

Graham Saunders is the Allardyce Nicoll Professor of Theatre at the University of Birmingham. His research is directed at British theatre since 1945, as well as the drama of Samuel Beckett.


Anne Etienne and Graham Saunders

Prologue: ‘It Matters’ 

Edward Bond


1. Radical Chic? Centre 42, the Roundhouse and How Culture Countered Wesker in the 1960s 

Lawrence Black

2. Introducing Mr Harold Wesker 

Graham Saunders

3. Roots: A Political Poem 

James Macdonald

4. The Enigma That Is Pip: A Character under Construction in Wesker’s Chips with Everything 

John Bull

5. Wesker’s Flawed Diamond: Their Very Own and Golden City 

Chris Megson


6. ‘Let Battle Commence!’: The Wesker Controversies 

Harry Derbyshire

7. Representing Jewishness and Antisemitism in Arnold Wesker’s Work: Shylock, Badenheim 1939 and Blood Libel

Sue Vice


8. Wesker’s French Connections 

Anne Etienne

9. Wesker the Visual Artist – ‘Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life!’ 

Pamela Howard

10. A Charming Rogue: Wesker’s Relationship with Women – and with Himself 

Michael Fry

11. The Idea of Community in the Plays of Arnold Wesker from The Kitchen to Beorhtel’s Hill 

Robert Wilcher

Notes on Contributors 


'Arnold Wesker: Fragments and Visions will add significantly to the body of scholarship on this important and sometimes neglected dramatist.' 

Stephen Lacey, Emeritus Professor, Drama, Film and Television, Faculty of Creative Industries, University of South Wales

“Arnold Wesker: Fragments and Visions will add significantly to the body of scholarship on this important and sometimes neglected dramatist.”


Stephen Lacey, emeritus professor of drama, film and television, Faculty of Creative Industries, University of South Wales
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