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Look Back in Anger - Review

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by Haydn Radford (subscribe)
Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events.
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A true milestone in the history of theatre

John Osborne's influential play written in 1956 was considered revolutionary in its time as it defined a new generation of "angry young men" when the majority of British theatre and movies were feel-good, well-to-do romantic musicals which characterised the previous older, middle-class audiences. World War II was long over, but England was still suffering from shortages and rationing of some goods. Look Back in Anger is a realist play about disadvantaged young people, depicting bleak, volatile, social themes. It is described as one of the first 'kitchen sink dramas'.

Photographer: Norm Caddick

Director Lesley Reed has followed the original stage directions that Osborne produced for the actors in his script. Reed's aim is to "present for lovers of classic theatre a true milestone in the history of theatre. I have deliberately instilled a slightly 'filmic' feel to the production set in a rundown Victorian-era boarding house."

Reed says, "The play's themes are potentially controversial today, just as they were in the 1950s and this in itself attracts audiences. This stunning and often shocking drama is a powerful and absorbing work worthy of staging." It is a fact that Look Back in Anger remains a milestone in the history of English theatre.

The opening is set in the 1950's social context with the projection of original black and white newsreel footage depicting the poverty people experienced living in the Midlands. This certainly gives clear insight and understanding of the time and place.

Photographer: Norm Caddick

What is obvious from the beginning of this production is the dismal living conditions of the one-room attic and the volatile relationship between Jimmy Porter (Adam Tuominen), his wife Alison (Leah Lowe), an upper-middle-class impassive wife and their friend, a Welshman, Cliff Lewis (James Edwards), who struggles to keep the peace between the couple, and at times between Jimmy and himself. When Alison's haughty friend Helena (Jessica Carroll), who is performing in a local play comes to stay, she creates further tension. Arguments lead to Alison leaving Jimmy and going to her parents. Helena stays, declaring her undying love to Jimmy, and they unite in a relationship. As the play progresses, Alison meets with her father Colonel Redfern (Jack Robins), providing further insight into her troubled relationship with Jimmy and a deeper understanding of what troubles Jimmy in his struggle to relate to other people. Alison returns to the flat where she, Jimmy and Helena confront one-another. To reveal more of the play's dramatic story-line would be a spoiler.

Photographer: Norm Caddick

From the opening lines the chief protagonist, Jimmy spews fast and aggressive insults directly at Alison and sarcasm towards Cliff, his well-meaning friend. Jimmy is obnoxious, dislikeable, cynical and a misogynist. He is the troubled product of an uncaring mother and a childhood traumatic event.

His constant verbal abuse may be too confronting for some audience members to stomach for Jimmy clearly expresses his every thought emotionally with much pent-up anger. He is continually angry as he lashes out at everyone, blaming them for what-ever troubles him. He is clearly an angry young man. Some may wonder why anyone would bother to live with such an objectionable being.

However, saying that, this play in the late 50s certainly shook up the theatre world because it was so different from theatre gone before. Some audiences will recognise the play's themes are potentially controversial today, just as they were in the 1950s and this will attract audiences.

Photographer: Norm Caddick

I found the cast performances all very strong. They played out the emotions effectively giving great performances. I was amazed at how clever Tuominen was to deliver dramatically the lengthy dialogue, which is intensely worded with such fullness of heart. There were some moments when he expressed Osborne's haranguing monologues with such intensity so quickly, I struggled to interpret what followed as I was still needing to understand what he said before, which was unfortunate because he delivered such powerful dialogue in his performance.

Some may remember Adam Tuominen for his brilliant performance as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire and as Johnny in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune when he won the Curtain Call award for Best Male Actor.

The production crew have done an amazing job of the set to create the bleak attic flat. Songwriter and guitarist, Kim Orchard, wrote the early Dixieland music creating the ideal atmosphere of the post-war period.

Overall, this was a confronting play revealing insight on volatile relationships, the angst of disadvantaged young people, misogyny, poverty, unresolved grief, domestic violence and more, in a post-World War II Britain. Yet it also has some lighter moments.

The play still presents issues that are still relevant today. It is interesting for audiences to compare the prevailing attitudes of the times to those of today too, especially the treatment of women within some marriages. But how much have we changed?

This is a play the audience will need to make up their own mind.
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Why? The play is relevant for contemporary audiences, and as a stunning and often shocking drama it is a powerful and absorbing work, worthy of staging.
When: Thur 29 Aug at 8pm Fri 30 Aug at 8pm Sat 31 Aug at 8pm Wed 4 Sep at 8pm Thu 5 Sep at 8pm Fri 6 Sep at 8pm Sat 7 Sep at 2pm Sat 7 Sep at 8pm
Phone: 08 82125777
Where: The Arts Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Cost: Adult: $22 / Concession $17. Become a subscriber: 5 Tickets $70. Incredible $14 per ticket to be used anyway you like during 2019.
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