January 12th, 2012
Look Back in Anger holds a rather important place in theatre history. First produced in 1956, this drama created an uproar with its look into the cramped apartment of Jimmy Porter and his wife Alison, revealing the seething emotions simmering just below the surface of a new class of young British men and women. Osborne created the now-iconic “angry young man” with Jimmy, bringing to the stage a character who would never have appeared in the plays of writers like Noel Coward or Terence Rattigan. These playwrights and those like them were the leading lights of the British theatre for decades with their depictions of the upper class, full of bright wit and stiff upper lips. But Osborne shook everything up, leading a generation of playwrights who would bring the lower classes to the masses and set their plays not in posh drawing rooms but in messy, crowded kitchens. While Rattigan was called “a master of understatement,” Osborne exchanged reticence for voices raised in anger. It was truly a revolution.
There was something about these writers who came up after World War II that just couldn’t be quieted. Their characters reflected the lack of promise that these young people saw. Feeling dispossessed, these characters practically go stir-crazy, goading each other into fights simply to have something to do. It’s a fascinating change, and it’s particularly interesting that the public was so ready to accept it. When we produced Rattigan’s Man and Boy earlier this season, I spoke of his rivalry with Osborne and how much he resented being pushed aside for this new, scrappy group of writers who, in his opinion, had no understanding of character or storytelling. But it’s not as though Rattigan was pushed aside by the writers themselves – it’s the audience who truly decides what will be popular, and they made it very clear that they were ready for the kind of change that Osborne and those of his ilk were bringing.
Of course, all that angry young man rage was inextricably tied into its particular era, so an important issue to tackle is: How do you make this play feel just as powerful now? I think director Sam Gold, who is an Associate Artist at Roundabout, has found an incredibly exciting way to approach this question. While acknowledging that this play came out of a very particular time, place, class system, etc., Sam is focusing in on the idea that these big emotions could really come from putting a bunch of young people in cramped quarters together anytime, anywhere. With that in mind, he has stripped down the play in what I think is an insightful, aggressive way. I’ve never seen a design like it in our Laura Pels Theatre, but trust me when I say that it’s a bold choice that I, for one, find thrilling. One of the reasons that we do revivals of plays like Look Back in Anger in this particular theatre is to see them reimagined and to give the artists involved the space to take risks with a play that people may already think they know well. Like The Glass Menagerie and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore before, I suspect that this production will leave you with a whole new impression of this play and playwright.
I will certainly be eager to hear your reactions to this new production, so please do send me your thoughts by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org or commenting below. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be able to correspond with you about our shows, and I thank you for taking the time to share your opinions.
I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!