first_imgby Lakshmi KrishnanJimmy Porter is no Hamlet. Yes, he is callow and ineffective, prone to verbal flights of fancy and possesses, I grant, a certain surface charm. But here the similarity (drawn by Tynan in 1956) ends. Osborne gives us no convincing reason for Jimmy’s futility. There is no significant moment of introspection or dissection of his anger. And while Hamlet’s struggle proves timeless and enduring, Jimmy’s seems hopelessly dated. An angry young man bitterly disappointed with the establishment, let down by his education, caught in the inertia of post-empire Britain, he rages against the status quo. So what?   When it emerged, Look Back in Anger was shocking. It gutted the structure of British drama: replacing polite conversation with gritty dialogue. It laid bare the sordid realities of domestic life in the most unflinching manner. In the form of Jimmy Porter, it spoke to a historical moment. Unfortunately, this is no longer good enough. Watching Look Back in Anger is like observing an artefact. The raked stage, point-perfect Midlands flat, and soft lighting heighten this effect, re-capturing a lost world and keeping it at arm’s length. This production made no effort to move beyond the script, and its actors are let down by the play.   To be fair, they make the best of a bad job. Tom Palmer as Jimmy Porter gives a solid, occasionally inspired performance. He was marvellous when quietly sarcastic or tenderly apologetic toward his wife, Alison (Beth Williams). His rages, alas, were more temper tantrums than anything else, making him seem more a petulant schoolboy than a tense dynamo. When threatening, he was less menacing than pitiable. But he manages to make Jimmy’s interminable harangues compelling, and beautifully captures their juxtaposition of lyricism and squalor.   Alison Porter is a thankless role for any actress. As Jimmy himself says, she is ‘wet’, moping about stage, ironing endless piles of clothes with her hair falling over her face. She is maddeningly masochistic. But after witnessing her ultimate breakdown, I am glad that Beth Williams reserved her energies. Her final confrontation with Jimmy was, for me, the highlight of the play. A stronger contrast couldn’t be imagined: between previously calm, lifeless Alison and the grovelling, virtually incoherent creature on the floor. I do wish Palmer’s reaction to Williams’ passionate reversal had been stronger, or at least, more humane. As it was, he appeared slightly embarrassed, as if he’d come across something he wasn’t meant to see. Perhaps that was the intent, but the result was an awkward emotional disparity.   Nick Budd was a delight as ‘nice guy’ Cliff Lewis: amusing and particularly touching when consoling Alison. Their chemistry was excellent, and added a much-needed physical dimension to the earlier, rather detached scenes. Peter Clapp was suitably halting and wistful as Alison’s father, Colonel Redfearn, although a friend noted that he appeared to be a retired banker rather than ex-military.   The performances themselves are worth going to see, but Look Back in Anger has very little else to recommend it. It requires updating, or at least some hint that Osborne’s writing is still relevant; characters behave in unaccountable ways, and even talented actors cannot lend depth to such creations. As Colonel Redfearn says of Jimmy, ‘he has quite a turn of phrase, doesn’t he?’ Sadly, this ‘turn of phrase’ might be the only remaining positive from Osborne’s work.last_img

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