Andrew looks back to his own Roots to direct play
ANDREW Breakwell first read Roots, by Arnold Wesker, as a teenager.
Now, almost 50 years later, the 64-year-old is directing the play for a touring production which arrives at the New Vic Theatre next month.
"It was 1963 and I was a pupil at Chester County Grammar School," he recalls. "Somebody may have handed the play to me or I found it on a bookshelf in the school library.
"About three months later I went on a residential drama course and the rest, as they say, is history."
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Roots is set in Norfolk in 1959 and centres on the main character, Beatie Bryant, who is back home from London for a holiday. Bursting with ideas and full of love and admiration for her bright Jewish boyfriend Ronnie, Beatie's mind is awash with his views on politics and culture.
"The play moved me because it's about a life I know," continues Andrew. "It's set in a rural community with a farm worker's family.
"I was brought up in Shropshire and Cheshire on a series of farms where my dad was a farm labourer."
Roots is a co-production between the Mercury Theatre Company, in Colchester, and Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company.
After premiering in Colchester earlier this month, it is now touring to Hull, Staffordshire, Oxford and Nottingham.
"There are three acts," says Andrew, who lives in Nottingham.
"We see Beatie first with her sister and her family.
"Then, in the next act, she is with her mother and father, and the final part is when Ronnie is due to meet his girlfriend's family at the end of the holiday."
In the play, Beatie is eager to talk about her new life in London and her boyfriend.
"At the end, Beatie articulates her own thoughts," says Andrew.
"She stops quoting her boyfriend and becomes very much a woman in her own right with her own views.
"The play is actually based on the experiences of Arnold Wesker when he met his wife-to-be."
Roots is the centrepiece of The Wesker Trilogy, which also includes Chicken Soup With Barley, and I'm Talking About Jerusalem.
The cast of Roots includes Natasha Rickman, who trained at RADA and takes the role of Beatie.
"The actors, in the main, are part of the ensemble at Colchester, who regularly appear on the stage there," says Andrew. "And there is one other actor, Linda Broughton, who we've brought in to play Beatie's mother."
Andrew started out as a teacher, before getting a job at York Theatre Royal directing a young people's theatre company.
He now manages the education department at Nottingham Playhouse, a role which includes sending plays out to schools.
"For the last 42 years I've taken plays to schools at a variety of venues up and down the country," he says.
"And I also teach at both the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University."
But how would he sum up Roots?
"It has some serious moments," he says. But there are also moments of humour, lightness and family warmth, as well as anger."
Roots is at The New Vic Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday, May 8 to 12. Call the box office on 01782 717962 for tickets. Note, there may be smoking on stage.