Theatre Review: LOOK BACK IN ANGER

by Lynn on September 25, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Look Back In Anger

 At 1093 Queen St. W, Toronto. Written by John Osborne. Directed and set by Anita La Selva. Set Artist, Jeff Blackburn. Sound by Sam Sholdice. Lighting by Melissa Joakim. Starring: Tosha Doiron, Eli Ham, Adriano Sobretodo Jr. Zoe Sweet, and the voice of Sandy MacDonald.

Presented by FeverGraph Theatre Company. Plays until September 29.

 Look Back In Anger is John Osborne’s most famous play. It was also his first. He was 27 when he wrote it. Osborne at one point was the ‘bad boy’ of British Theatre. Look Back In Anger exploded onto the theatre scene when it opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England in 1956. That play changed the face of British theatre. It was the beginning of kitchen sink theatre after the gentle and genteel world of Terence Rattigan. It was excoriating in its anger at the class conscious; the haves and have nots; abusive, leaderless; aimless; the lost.

The phrase “angry young man.” was coined to describe its main character, Jimmy Porter. Porter is an articulate, university educated, well-read, misogynistic, cynical, bitter man who rails against everything. He works at a sweet-stall selling candies. He lives in a squalid bed-sit in the Midlands.  He resents the class system in England—make no mistake this is an English play—he loathes phoniness and ferrets it out even when it’s not there; he loathes his wife Alison’s upper class upbringing and never lets her forget it; he challenges any hint of kindness or camaraderie; he is always on the offensive and he is almost totally offensive, except in those few times when he dissolves into sad self-pity—most of the time it’s just raging self-pity. Alison takes it all with resignation. She is a disappointment to her family for marrying Jimmy and is constantly being brow-beaten by him because of her class. Their friend Cliff Lewis lives with them and acts as a kind of peace-keeper. Alison’s actress friend Helena comes to visit and urges her to leave Jimmy. When she does Helena stays and the animosity between Jimmy and Helena changes. The play is unflinching in its invective; almost poetic in much of the language; and perceptive in creating these representatives of a lost generation.

I loathe the play. I loathe that the sad lout known as Jimmy Porter rails without reason or point. He has no solutions just invective.  But I don’t miss an opportunity to see Look Back in Anger  to try and have my mind changed. Zoe Sweet and Tosha Doiron, the producers, actors in the play and the creators of FeverGraph Theatre Company producing the play, have an interesting take. Their program note says:

“Admittedly, it’s hard to justify why a contemporary, physical-based, female company would exhume a dated, inherently misogynistic play….We wanted to figure out this mess of characters who struggle with their ideas of class structure and class warfare and personal damage…And so there was the mission—to tame this piece that wrestles with ideas of class divide and a disenfranchised foursome; to tame it in a way that reintroduces its importance to our contemporary needs. Jimmy is a person that is born out of his time and as this play is being brought back out of the time it was created in, its questions are disturbingly resonant.”

Well, no. I don’t think so. Jimmy isn’t “born out of his time” just because a character says so. He is totally of his time. No matter the time we always have Jimmy Porters in our midst. Angry, boorish, boring in his raging at the unfairness of how the world treats him; misogynistic, narcissistic, never wrong, assumes a slight where none exists and holds on dearly to that class divide because it’s so inherent in British society. We never learn what chances Jimmy missed because of his place in society. We just have to listen to his winging.

Alison doesn’t give Jimmy any reason to mistreat or mistrust her because of her stature in society. She submits to him. She accepts the abuse. That’s her fault. Cliff loves both Alison and Jimmy. He does act as a buffer between them. And Helena is close to Alison and also probably is attracted to Jimmy. They are stuck in their lives. Literature and real life are full of these walking wounded.

The audience sits in chairs along two facing walls of the bowling-alley shaped room. At one end are two chairs besides which is a stack of newspapers. At the other end is a radio and in front of that is an ironing board and iron.

Two men are already in the chairs as we come in, reading their newspapers. They are Jimmy and Cliff.  Eventually the two women enter as well. They are Alison and Helena. Alison carefully irons a crumpled up piece of paper. Helena reads a paper. At various times Jimmy glares at Alison or Cliff or Helena and snaps his paper open for further effect.

When the play begins a recording of the first scene begins with Jimmy lamenting why he reads the papers every Sunday. He queries his friend and his wife and does not get the response he wants and rails at them.   It’s confusing since we don’t know what character is actually talking until the recording stops and the real characters take over.  At times scenes that have been recorded are played while Cliff and Alison do a kind of slow dance. Sometimes the real characters give their lines at the same time as the recorded scene is played. I note that all the actors speak their lines without much inflection, almost drone-like as if they are saying the words just to hear how they sound, rather than imbuing them with any ‘acting’ or emotion. I assume that this is part of the exploration that director Anita La Selva and her cast Eli Ham (Jimmy Porter), Tosha Doiron (Alison Porter), Adriano Sobretodo (Cliff), and Zoe Sweet (Helena) are involved in trying to “figure out this mess of characters.” I would be interested to know if they felt they had. For me, this 90 minute intermissionless version of Osborne’s rather long, three act play seems more intent on doing their theatre games of exploration than actually imparting any of their discoveries to the audience. Unsatisfying production of this really loathsome play.



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