Look Back In Anger

John Osborne
Octagon Theatre Bolton and Derby Theatre
Octagon Theatre Bolton

Augustina Seymour and Patrick Knowles in Look Back In Anger Credit: Robert Day

John Osborne's play sits squarely above the 1950s fault lines in our society, when shifts in the political and social fabric were about to cause major tremors.

A country being told it had never "had it so good" was simultaneously afraid of atomic oblivion. Osborne kicked against a national complacency he felt was mirrored in the country's theatres by turning some of his own life's experiences into a play regarded as the one that changed the face of British theatre, and spawned the Angry Young Man.

Marking its 60th anniversary is as good a reason as any to stage this revival, a co-production between the Octagon and Derby Theatre. The latter was also the very town in which the writer created his play, and it would seem that Sundays spent in Derby—in the 50s at least—were hardly spellbinding.

This is when, and where, Jimmy Porter (Patrick Knowles) holds court, railing against everything and everybody in close proximity, especially his wife Alison (Augustina Seymour) and business partner Cliff (Jimmy Fairhurst). Occasionally this desperately unhappy household becomes a bizarre menagerie a trois as the three lapse into infantile impersonations of animals.

It never was, and is never going to be, an easy work for audiences. Attitudes here, especially those towards women, would seem closer to Derby's Neanderthal period. Judged by today's standards Look Back In Anger looks more like a study in domestic abuse, requiring a Helpline number to be published in the programme. The AYM character himself was pretty well comically deconstructed by Tony Hancock and since the play was written before the invention of bad language it will seem even more of a period piece to younger theatregoers.

Even before it was written, and especially since, there have been better studies of Love As A Monster.

But as part of the 20th century road map that guided our route through class, politics and gender it can still be a rewarding experience, especially delivered by such a flawless cast, and heightened by the fact that many are strangers to audiences hereabouts. Daisy Badger, as Helena, makes her highly-impressive stage debut while Ivan Stott, as both Colonel Redfern and the production's composer and sound designer, adds several more notes of authenticity to director Sarah Brigham's calibrated production.

Reviewer: David Upton