Look Back in Anger by John Osbourne
Director: Erica Whyman
Reviewer: James Higgins
John Osbourne’s Look back in Anger was first performed at the Royal Court theatre in 1956 and the theatre’s press agent thought people wouldn’t take to it and coined the now well known phrase angry young man when expressing his dislike of Osbourne. Author Alan Sillitoe wrote of its first performance “John Osbourne didn’t contribute to British theatre he set off a landmine and blew most of it up.”
To 1956 audiences the setting of Look Back in Anger, a grubby, seedy flat and its dialogue heralded the beginning of what became known as the kitchen sink dramas. John Osborne's play was to a large extent autobiographical based on his family background and his relationship with his mother and with women.
This Northern stage production, directed by Erica Whyman and designed by Soutra Gilmour brings to us the classic performance with the authentic fifties bedsit setting, dirty peeling wallpaper and cramped space, the reality of post war living for those unable to afford the middle class lifestyle.
To a present day audience it is not the text or the setting that is likely to instill the same sense of shock experienced by theatre goers in the late fifties but the plays somewhat monotonous length (3 hours 10 minutes)
Jimmy Porter, (Bill Ward) the angry young man around who the play is centred gave us an almost continual rant which at times made us want to stand up and shout back. This was a very worthy performance which occasionally got lost in the anger amongst the constantly over eager gesticulating. The Colonel (Robert East) contrasted beautifully with Jimmy, with a clear audible and dignified delivery. Alison, (Nia Gwynne) Jimmy’s wife must in 1956 have elicited much audience sympathy for her abject humiliation. In 2009 this just serves to illustrate Jimmy's extreme misogynistic attitude and you wish Alison’s character would stand up for herself and give him an earful. Laura Howard as Helena gave an excellent performance as Alison’s scheming friend. Rob Storr came across as slightly unconvincing as Jimmy’s mate Cliff, with his Welsh accent appearing sporadically from scene to scene.
Look Back in Anger seems very much to be a cutting edge play of its time, and now appears to have lost its resonance with the public and its ability to shock.Overall this was a good performance of a very difficult slow moving play but all in all just far too long for the modern audience.
Look Back in Anger runs at the Richmond Theatre until Sat 16th May