Sunday, 15 March 2009

Look Back In Anger - Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne

Look Back In Anger by: John Osborne
Director: Erica Whyman
Musical Composition: Leif Jordansson
Reviewer: Ian Cain

Legend has it that when Look Back In Anger was first performed, at London’s Royal Court Theatre in May 1956, audiences gasped at the sight of an ironing board on a London stage. Such harshness and realism in theatre was in stark contrast to the more escapist fare previously seen.

Fifty-three years later, the strongest reaction that John Osborne’s play provokes is boredom. There is no denying that Look Back In Anger was hugely influential, most notably because it spawned the terms ‘kitchen sink drama’ and ‘angry young man’, but today it appears dated and contrived and has little relevance to offer a modern-day audience.

Jimmy Porter, the main protagonist, is a vile character. Domineering, cruel, bad-tempered, violent and sarcastic - Osborne gives Porter few traits that the audience can empathise with. This is also true of the two other main characters: Alison, Porter’s upper-middle class wife, seems to thrive on her ill-treatment and Cliff, their Welsh lodger, is weak and pathetic.

Bill Ward (Coronation Street’s Charlie Stubbs), at 42, is far too old to portray the disaffected 25 year old. His performance was underwhelming as his diction veered from resembling a bad impersonation of Tommy Cooper to being totally inaudible at times. He hurls and throws himself around the stage, in his stocking feet, while shouting and ranting like a lunatic and, at one point, looked more like Todd Carty trying to perform a routine in Dancing On Ice as he slid and slipped on the wooden flooring.
Nia Gwynne , as Alison, was convincingly down-trodden. She gave some good facial expressions and her physicality also conveyed the character’s plight. Rob Storr’s portrayal of Cliff was rather less successful. His performance was one-dimensional and his voice, which, incidentally, was completely devoid of a Welsh accent, was monotone.

The dialogue, which now seems cumbersome and clunky, was punctuated by a couple of lovely lines that were delivered with aplomb by Laura Howard as Helena. There were more than a few times throughout the evening when I found myself thanking God for Osborne’s insertion of the character of Helena and also for Laura Howard’s sassy performance. Robert East also gave a fine and suitably understated performance as Alison’s father, the Colonel.

The set, designed by Soutra Gilmour, and the lighting, designed by Charles Balfour, combined to create exactly the right atmosphere of squalor for Jimmy and Alison’s attic flat. However, in a production that comprises three acts and runs for more than three hours, these highlights were not enough to sustain the interest of a sparse audience and there was a certain amount of fidgeting and fumbling and I wondered just how many of the audience felt, as I did, that they’d wasted an evening.

Look Back In Anger runs until Saturday 21st March 2009
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