January 12th, 2012
Ted Sod, Education Dramaturg, interviewed director Sam Gold about his thoughts on Look Back in Anger.
Ted Sod: Why did you choose to direct Look Back in Anger?
Sam Gold: The play has always been very high on my list of plays to work on; it was influential to me as I was becoming involved in the theatre. I used the play as I started to think about myself as an artist. I really responded to Jimmy Porter as a character. I connected with Osborne and what he had to say about young people, class and culture. When Todd Haimes offered me the position of associate artist at the Roundabout and asked me what I wanted to do, it just felt like an important first revival to do with him.
TS: Man and Boy was produced this season, a play written by Terence Rattigan, this year. And, as you know very well, Osborne’s play usurped Rattigan’s popularity in 1956. Do you think this play is specific to that time period?
SG: Yes. Osborne was having a conversation about his culture in a very specific way and there’s something about any great play that speaks about its time. This is a play that’s so engaged in the politics, class and social issues of an exact community and time, and I find it an exciting challenge to think about how a play that spoke so loudly and bravely about an exact time and place is going to resonate and engage us now.
TS: I just spoke with Matthew Rhys, and we were talking about the resonance of Occupy Wall Street because we both felt that if Jimmy Porter were in NYC today, he would be part of the protest.
SG: We’re not a very class-conscious culture in the U.S. It’s a much more class- conscious culture in Britain. It is sort of crazy that we’re having a national dialogue about class disparity in this country right now and that it timed out to be when we’re doing this play. It wasn’t by design, but I think it is a prescient time to do this play. I did The Threepenny Opera during the financial collapse and that play ends with Mack the Knife screaming that it should be the bankers not the bank robbers that are put in jail. I’ve been very interested in these rebellious plays about class and economy. Working onThreepenny got me really interested in Look Back in Anger again, but I never thought we’d be taking this kind of turn socially in this country by the time I did it.
TS: I’m very curious about your decision to excise the character of the Colonel, Alison’s father. How did you go about making that decision and how difficult was that to do?
SG: The Colonel was a character that felt very symbolic of something, very particular to the politics of postwar Britain. The big question for me was how much of this is going to be a period piece, and how much of this is going to be about how it resonates with a contemporary American audience? What I wanted to engage in was the core of the play: the instincts that Osborne had, the life he was leading, the young people he was dramatizing, their fiery young energy and their lust for life, and their relationships with each other. I felt if I could pare down some of the period specific aspects of the play – the stuff where he was really having a conversation with 1950s Britain – a contemporary audience wouldn’t feel so alienated and would connect with what the play has to say to us now.
TS: Did you have to negotiate with the Osborne estate? Was that a complicated process or fairly easy?
SG: The Osborne estate was really interested in how I was approaching the play and they seemed game.
TS: Do you see the play as a love story?
SG: Yes. I think of the play as a love rectangle. The way that young people mess up in love is really what the play is about. It’s about young people from different walks of life thrown in a disgusting room together and the way in which they ruin or save each other’s lives.
TS: Can you talk a bit about Alison and Jimmy’s connection?
SG: I think there’s self-hatred explored in this play. I think there’s first love and young love and young people not knowing who they are and in turn just lashing out. They lash out at people and they grab on to people, and they’re not self-actualized. By the end of the play, Alison and Jimmy start to self-actualize; they start to stop hating themselves and begin to let themselves love each other.