‘Look Back in Anger’ was a seismic game-changer when it was first performed in London in 1956. It brought realism crashing to both the stages and screens of the country, opening the doors for actors like Michael Caine, Albert Finney and Richard Harris to shine outside the garish lights of Broadway musical adaptations, Biblical epics and endless comedies of manners.
It cannot be understated how pivotal its release was – coming in the year that brought the Suez Crisis and decline of the British Empire, which its main character Jimmy Porter presciently derides for its outdated principles and standards. Its influence – on the likes of playwrights Harold Pinter and David Hare, and film directors Lyndsay Anderson and Mike Leigh – was profound.
That Theatre is doing us all proud by performing this giant of theatre. Unlike the work of some of Osborne’s contemporaries – take Joe Orton, for example – it has lost none of its bite and, in light of Brexit, its message is more important than ever.
Masterclass in physicality
British director Helen Parry brought a vast knowledge of her home country’s theatre to her rendering of the play, and she impressively helmed her troops to great effect – particularly in the scenes that demanded physicality.
Regardless of whether it was a father bonding with his daughter, a man and woman platonically hugging, two men frolicking through a music hall sketch, or two lovers lasciviously devouring one another, her assured hand was most noticeable during the scenes involving physical contact.
Parry ensured every altercation left a lasting impression, and the song and dance routine in the second act – Osborne went on to write ‘The Entertainer’, a role made famous by Laurence Olivier on the screen – was a particular standout.
While the five-performer cast all gave performances worthy of mention – Helle Kristiansen imbued Helena with an enigmatic nature that suited her duplicity, Peter Vinding was all heart (and blood and sweat) as Cliff, and Ian Burns was a delightfully doddery retired colonel, who we wished had returned for a second appearance – the night belonged to the two leads.
Søren Højen was masterful in what is a very demanding part, lines wise, and completely believable as the unambitious cynic who women find irresistible. I was left wishing that we could have seen more of Jimmy’s vulnerability – perhaps at the end of some of the scenes, as his presence was truly compelling.
While 22-year-old Alex Jespersen in the role of Jimmy’s wife, Alison, is clearly one to look out for in the future. Initially reticent whilst coyly ironing the men’s clothing in a nightgown, as she put more clothes on, she bared her soul – hard to imagine that anyone in the audience was not touched by her performance.
More County Cork than Cardiff, boyo
To my fellow Brits, I implore you to forget any misgivings you might have about the accents. I have it on good authority that the Hispanic lilts in the recent House of International Theatre production ‘The Clean House’ were a little off the money too.
It’s true that Cliff was more County Cork than Cardiff, that Helena sounded more like a Swede than a Sloane and that Jimmy and Alison were a little too Middle England in their representation of the gulf in class between them.
But when emotions are expressed as convincingly as this, the accents are a distraction that can easily be overlooked.