The premiere of That Theatre’s latest production, John Osborne’s seismic 1956 play ‘Look Back in Anger’, could not be better timed.
Under the watchful eye of director Helen Parry, That Theatre supremo Ian Burns and his young cast will hit the boards at Krudttønden theatre on Wednesday October 23 for a one-month run with a script written over six decades ago.
But given the post-Brexit situation of Britain, it could have conceivably been written last week!
A cracking love story
The echoes of Brexit in Osborne’s play were not the primary reason why Burns chose the story of working class man Jimmy Porter (Søren Højen) and his difficult relationship with his upper middle class wife Alison (Alex Jespersen) and society in general.
“I picked it first and foremost because it’s a cracking love story across the class divide that I feel still resonates today,” enthuses Burns.
“Look Back in Anger focuses on language and emotional intensity, real pleasures and real pains, and young love tearing the life out of each other.”
Strong parallels with today
Nevertheless, Burns concedes that the parallels between Britain today and in 1956, a year in which was sent reeling by the cataclysmic Suez Crisis, are uncanny. Porter’s gripes – which include hanging on to memories of being comfortable, secure, ordered and predictable – sound all too familiar.
“England was dying back then as it is now,” he observes.
“Post-Brexit Britain is trying to relive old triumphs. Is Brexit a massive self-inflicted national disaster or an act of massive catharsis? When the ruling classes bugger things up so obviously, as they are doing so now, we romanticise about our history and our heritage.”
No modern twists
But the play won’t be updated or set in modern times.
“Our play will be set in its original time so we can’t allude to Brexit, but the underlying blind faith that the working class seem to have for the elite astounds me. It might take the actual loss of the NHS to make people wake up,” concludes Burns.
For Burns, it is clearly an emotive subject, so it’s handy to have the steady hand of Parry, Burns’ first ever professional drama teacher, who oversaw ‘A Number’ last year and is a “delight” to work with.
A better reception this time
The critics did their best to make Osborne feel like he was an outsider when the play made its debut.
The BBC claimed the set was “unspeakably dirty and squalid” and that it was hard to “believe that a colonel’s daughter brought up with some standards” would live there. Ultimately, it concluded it was a “waste of time” watching it.
“I imagine that many of the then audience and critics were in shock to get a slice of ‘real-life’ in their faces,” suggests Burns.
Let’s hope the critics are a little more accommodating this time and able to recognise its impeccable timing!