Look Back in Anger

Tue 4th – Sat 15th November 2014

reviews

Liam Marchant

at 01:10 on 5th Nov 2014

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To perform 'Look Back in Anger' in 2014 above a gourmet pub in Clifton is bold for any theatre company. Universal acknowledgement of the drama as a seminal kitchen sink piece has somewhat neutered it, stripping John Osborne’s work of its edge. Nonetheless, Red Rope Theatre’s production of 'Look Back in Anger' injects a refreshing rawness into the favourite play of Britain’s pensioners.

Elliot Chapman’s performance as Jimmy enlivens the play with a vehemence it has recently lacked. At times he is a little too well-spoken for the working class anti-hero, though this is redeemed by his delivery of Jimmy’s lines as depraved outbursts rather than as set monologues. No piece of furniture is safe from his rampages around the set, no matter how kitsch. From the orange cover Penguin Classics to the armchair he regards with territorial pride, the stage is dominated by Jimmy's presence. It is always easy for the protagonist’s explosiveness to appear hammy next to the dull apathy of his wife, Alison (Lauren Saunders). Saunders, however, plays the role of the tortured housewife with skill. Her silence is often more poignant than her fraught responses to Jimmy’s interrogation, but their dynamic is certainly the most enjoyable aspect of 'Look Back in Anger'.

Helena (Annette Chown) appears slightly one-dimensional in the play’s first half. She casts the occasional haughty glance in Jimmy’s direction, though her contempt for her host does not feel genuine. Indeed, Helena as a character functions more as a plot device than as a real human being. She is a symbol of respectability infringing upon Jimmy and Alison’s proletarian squat. “None of you seems to know how to behave in a decent civilised way” Helena laments at one point. As this moralising comes to a halt following her shacking up with Jimmy in the second half, Chown gives a more versatile performance.

Cliff (Eoin Slattery) is the self-proclaimed “no-man’s land” between the other three characters. He mediates between their disputes in a tone somewhere between condescension and constant vagueness. It is an endearing performance by Slattery as the play’s one lovable character, though he and Helena are almost always in the shadows of Jimmy and Alison. Undoubtedly, it is the shared suffering of ‘the squirrel and the bear’ which gives an enduring appeal to this seemingly dated play.

That there even is a ‘canon’ of angry young man literature demonstrates how Look Back in Anger has been absorbed into the establishment it rails against. Whereas the presence of an ironing board on stage caused mass outrage during the play’s first performance at the Royal Court Theatre in 1956, it now hardly registers. In fact, the ironing board is beloved to modern audiences rather than vulgar. In spite of this, Red Rope Theatre’s production veers away from dubious regional accents and instead delivers an enjoyable rendering of a once radical drama.

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