It is more than half a century since John Osborne’s revolutionary kitchen sink drama arrived on stage at London’s Royal Court and blasted the world of theatre into a new era.
Yet this 55th anniversary production of Look Back In Anger by Contemporary Cow Theatre Company still delivers a powerful message. It is perhaps surprising that Osborne’s embattled couple, Jimmy and Alison Porter, trapped in a stifling 1950s marriage and torn apart by class conflict, should make any sense at all to a contemporary audience. Society has after all undergone a seismic shift in the intervening decades.
But people still feel oppressed and trapped by circumstance and director Amanda Knott has managed to portray the bleak world of post-war Britain and the frustrations of a generation struggling to free itself from the shackles of Empire and War in a way that chimes with those experiencing different difficulties today.
Piers Whener and Katherine Senior deliver superb performances as the passionate, angry and infuriating Jimmy and the brutally put-upon Alison. There are good performances too from Jonathan Parish as their easygoing housemate Cliff and Lizzy Dive as Alison’s friend Helena who threatens to completely destabilise what is left of their tattered relationship.
The play is not without its flaws however and Jack Hulland as Alison’s disapproving, baffled and blimpish father is mis-cast. His efforts to portray an old hand from a colonial past who has served as a military commander in pre-partition India are unconvincing in the extreme. The set, strewn with drying clothes and tired furniture certainly evokes 1950s austerity to perfection but the idea of using 21st century newspapers as props is a little strange. I imagine the fact that the Sunday Times splashes a promo for its Rich List on its front page is supposed to be a wry comment on how the meritocracy that Jimmy Porter so clearly yearns for would eventually emerge as another brand of them and us. It just looks out of place as do Jimmy’s hairstyle ( I use the term loosely) and his clothes which frankly could have come from any contemporary High Street. Never mind,these are small points. This play remains an astonishing piece of work, full of energy and passion and the real star remains Osborne’s searing text.
*Footnote for BBC Radio 4 listeners in the audience who wondered why Jimmy Porter sounded vaguely familiar. Actor Piers Whener appeared for several months in The Archers last year playing Pip’s deadbeat boyfriend Jude.