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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Old Ones, by Arnold Wesker, Reviewed.

First performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, 1972, this two-acter from a wise playwright fell
into my hands through a library sale. I’d enjoyed his ‘Chips With Everything’, and thought I’d see what he had to offer here.

This is a play, as the title suggests, about old people. Though the definition of ‘old’ has probably shifted since the writing of the play, since the eldest character is only 72. Personal viewpoint, probably, but as someone only 7 years junior to that character, I don’t consider myself ‘old’. It’s also about Jewish people, with the preparation and performance of a Jewish ceremony running as a thread through the performance. But the observations about aging, relationships and the generation gap are universal, of course. Where I do find a slight disagreement with the author is in his implicit suggestion that wisdom is the sole province of the old. It’s true that he shows foolishness and senility lie there as well, but he has no representatives of wisdom amongst the young. My own experience of life has shown me that age and wisdom are not always bedfellows. In fact, I’ve experienced wisdom at the hands of youth very frequently. And I’ve witnessed foolishness in the actions and thoughts of the old on too many occasions to record.

That said, the play is entertaining and does encapsulate certain attitudes without turning them into clich├ęs. There are moments of great insight, moments of sadness, spells of conflict and periods of harmony. I could have done without the biblical quotes, which, for me, added nothing to the structure of the play and seemed no more than seasoning to flavour the Jewishness of the characters. Other quotes and philosophical meanderings I found instructive and illuminating, however.

Youth is shown only as uncaring, selfish, destructive and ignorant, which is a real shame and no accurate rendition of reality as I find it. The senility is early onset in current terms, but was probably accurate contemporaneously. Nowadays, we expect people to demonstrate senility in general terms when eighty or older.

There’s some demonstration of the basic hypocrisy of religion, but I couldn’t decide whether this was unconscious, ironical, or a deliberate uncovering of this unfortunate quality. No matter, it served the purpose of revealing the unfortunate habit of many religious people of saying one thing whilst doing something else entirely.

I think I’d enjoy this play in performance. On the page there’s humour, which, allowed the right sort of actors, would probably turn the work into a very good work piece of philosophical comedy. A good read.
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