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Look Back in Anger

John Osborne
Ovation DVD
£19.99
(2006)

The play that launched a theatrical revolution celebrates its golden jubilee this year. Look Back in Anger is still a remarkable work and has almost as much impact today as it must have had in 1956.

It is a mark of the quality of this production, directed by Judi Dench for Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company, that it remains in the mind so long after it was originally screened. Even more so, when one discovers that Thames TV's airing of an original stage production, is unbelievably now seventeen years old.

At its heart is a storming effort from Branagh as the raging Jimmy Porter. For fully fifteen minutes at the start, he rants at his poor passive wife Alison, played by Emma Thompson, Branagh's own wife at the time.

The "no man's land between them" is Gerard Horan's mild-mannered Welshman, Cliff, who is equally in love with each of them but in different ways.

As the battering continues, one begins to wonder why Alison puts up with it and what, if anything, can ever save her from the torture that she endures.

Gradually, we see glimpses of the charm of this educated, working-class man, who feels trapped by a life in which he struggles to find purpose.

The catalyst for change is the arrival of Alison's prim friend Helena (Siobhan Redmond). The hatred that she engenders in Jimmy is reciprocated but she is at least able to redirect some of his ire away from his poor wife.

When Alison's father (played by Edward Jewesbury) arrives, he turns out to be a prototypical representative of the old school that his son-in-law rails against. For him, Britain stopped in 1914 when he took up a colonial post in India, and is now another country.

The play cleverly explores both the human relationship between a pair that love and hate each other to equal degrees and the change in society that the arrival of educated but angry young men with massive chips on their shoulders must engender.

Designer Jenny Tiramani helps her director, catching the bleakness of a tiny, claustrophobic bedsit that regularly acts as a pressure cooker for its residents.

The performances are all strong and, in particular, Branagh's manages to draw pathos from a radical character born out of his time, who initially seems to be irredeemably hateful. He does this best in a fine speech harking back to the time when as a ten-year-old, Jimmy watched his father gradually succumb to a painful death.

This is a landmark production of a historic play and we should all be grateful that, even though it is impossible to derive the same pleasure from a DVD as live theatre, it is now possible to enjoy stage history in a way that previous generations were never able to.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher