Look Back in Anger
By John Osborne.
The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4JD to 14 March 2020.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sun 4pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0333 012 4963
Review: William Russell 3 March.
Last staged in London this revival of John Osborne’s 1956 play which introduced the world to the angry young man is a decent catch up chance for anybody who has never seen the play. It is well performed and James D Fawcett rises to the venom in the diatribes Osborne composed for Jimmy Porter, his working class chap with a grudge against society, who takes it out on all around him, especially his socially superior wife Alison. The play has dated. It is in that tricky stage of its life when it is not old enough to be of another time – the Porters and the hanger of Cliff and the predatory best girlfriend actress Helena are near enough to be almost of today, except, of course, that today, while Jimmy would still be railing against the world, they would be living in one with mobile phone, laptops, cheap plonk and all the rest. It did strike me that in this age of colour blind casting – no reflection on Mr Fawcett – that Jimmy should have been played by an actor of colour. It would at a stroke justify his anger.
The play’s problems remain in that the two women are very difficult to take. Osborne may have created his men brilliantly but Alison, the daughter of a Colonel and socially above Jimmy, is simply a pawn there to endure his rants while ironing his shirts and the actress Helena, who comes to stay, is just another also slightly posher girl fascinated by a bit of rough trade, a cliché character if ever there was. The stuff about squirrels and bears was embarrassing then and still is.
But the play caught the mood of its time – Osborne was only 26 when he wrote it – and his diatribes against the inequalities in society then still ring true today in spite of all the changes that have taken place. Director Sebastian Palka has tried to set it in a timeless world with a fractured set for the flat in which the Porters live representing a battlefield on which Jimmy is waging war against all the things that are wrong in his life rather than an architecturally correct place so that we focus on the characters in the struggle. It is an admirable enough aim but does not quite work. Current newspapers are used for Jimmy to complain about, which is neither here nore there, but presenting the arrival of Alison’s father to take her home as just a voice over is an odd idea – it sabotages the picture of the world from which she came against which Osborne and Jimmy are raging.
It is very difficult to see just what Alison saw in the bolshie young man who owns a sweetie stall in the local street market or why the actress girlfriend should step in the minute Alison has had enough to take her place at the ironing board. Nor is it clear, although this is possibly part of what was permissible in 1956, just why best friend Cliff and the lodger should also allow himself to be humiliated and bashed about by his mate. There presumably is a gay sub text not possible to spell out at the time but which could be clearer today. In a country ruled by posh boys, although not all of them are white old Etonians, working class anger at the injustices in society is still there so the play does still have something worth listening to.
Jimmy Porter: James D. Fawcett.
Alison Porter: Rowan Douglas.
Cliff Lewis: Aaron Bennett.
Helena Charles: Holly Hinton.
Colonel Redfern (voice): Dickon Farmer.
Director: Sebastian Palka.
Set Designers: Marta Anna Licwnko & Tina Torbay.
Costume Designer: Radvile Kisieliute.
Lighting Designer: Jordan Thys Moffatt.
Photographer: Nicolas Chinardet.